Candelária massacre. Prejudice towards Brazilian street children

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

8 Pages, Grade: 66


On 23 July 1993, at night, a group of men fired on a group of over 50 street children who were sleeping in the surrounding area of the Candelária Church, in Rio de Janeiro city centre. Five children and one young adult were killed almost immediately, three others were kidnapped with fatal consequences for two of them. The remaining survived a shot on his face as the gang had left him for dead. Taking in sum, seven children and one young adult where killed in this episode. However the disgrace for the survivors did not stop that night, it is believed that 39 out of the children who used to sleep in Candelária by that time have died in a violent way (AI, 2003). This butchery was carried out by “death squads”, which mainly involved members of the Military Police of Rio, that is, those who are supposed to protect the civilians. Its “origin”, in words of the accused me, was some stones thrown at a police car. The Candelária slaughter has also become famous for being the first time that a Brazilian policeman is found guilty of murdering a street child (Csillag, 1996)

In the following pages I will try to explain the general situation of street children, and why they exist in Brazil, while making references to how psychological and criminological theories can explain their situation. However, first I will define “what” a street child is, and what are they major concerns

Street children are a world-wide phenomenon in the developing world (UNICEF, 1993). Figures for Brazil are estimated to be between 7 and 10 million (Lusk, 1989). But, who is a street child? The United Nations definition of street children is “…any girl or boy… for whom the street (in the widest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become his or her habitual abode and/source of livehood; and who is inadequately protected, supervised, or directed by responsible adults” (in Lusk, 1992, p. 294).

Street children have adopted the street as their home, and are immersed in the sub-culture of the streets with all its consequences, that can be grouped in lack of education, lack of medical care, lack of security, involvement in crime, and exposition to drugs (Levenstein, 1994)

However among the attitudes of street children it is often found that they are aware of their situation and want to own a house or to live honestly. Conversely society commonly sees street children as delinquents, drug addicts or emotionally deprived (Leite and Esteves, 1991, in Levenstein, 1994).

Thus it is not surprising to find that violence in one of their major concerns (Rizzini & Lusk, 1995). In fact, data suggest they are right, alongside social violence (failure of the society to take care of them), personal violence and institutionalized violence towards street children offer dramatic figures; in 1993 it was estimated that 4 children were assassinated every day (Lalor, 1999). Regarding personal violence street children sometimes kill each other in confrontations with rival drug gangs to which they belong as full members or as “employees”. Research show that gang membership is characterized by home and school detachment, looking for status and identity, excitement, and a sense of safety from real or unreal fears (Klein, 1998), thus street children are prone to them. Two theories of gang proliferation can explain why some Brazilian cities are prolific to them. One is the Drug Explosion (Klein, 1995, in Klein, 1998) and the other is The Urban Underclass (Wilson, 1987, in Klein, 1998). While the former one it is explained by its name, the latter one refers to when there is a reduction in social services resources and lack of opportunities given to the low class. In addition belonging to a gang is sometimes vital for street children as they provide protection, which is often paid off in terms of theft, drug distribution or prostitution (Lusk, 1992). However it is the institutionalized violence, and especially bad experiences with the police (Raffaelliet al2000), that they probably fear the most. This kind of violence usually comes for the military police and extermination squads. Statistics for the military police are appalling, it was estimated that in 1993 half of all acts of violence against street children were committed by them (Levenstein, 1994). Explaining why this rate of violence by the police is somewhat difficult as many variables act together, however the corruption, low salaries, and political support can, in part, explain it (Rio 10 years on, ONU rights of the children; police brutality). The Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977) can explain to some extent why this behaviour is persistent. New policeman can look to the example of colleagues already engaged in corruption (and it seems that many Brazilian policemen are engaged with all possible types of police corruption (see Feldman, 1993), and killings. Moreover as these policemen are not only not punished for their behaviour but often are rewarded by political statements[1], well-intentioned policemen can modify their attitudes and beliefs about violence, and create mental “guides” of how to solve their “problems”, thus these “guides” can be activated without aware (Huesmann, 1998), provoking fatal consequences for innocents. Therefore they are likely to learn the criminal behaviour through social learning in the fashion stated by Akers (1985, cited in Burke, 2001). This process includes differential association (interactions with others), definitions (personal view of crime), differential reinforcement (pre evaluation of pros and cons), and imitation. On the other hand “death squads” often provide their “services” to protect business by killing them. They are defined by IA as “illegal groups, usually made up of off-duty military and civil police officers, who carry out unlawful killings, usually of alleged criminal suspects” (AI, 2003). They usually kill people from the lower-income background of the society, street children are one of their preferred targets (Dimenstein, 1991). The response of society to these groups is somewhat ambiguous, while many Brazilians feel embarrassed of these killings, others still approve the “clean-up” and even demonstrate in favour of the assassins (Michaels, 1993, in Levenstein, 1994). The government strategy is also ambiguous (HRW, 1997); on the one hand they have taken action against them, on the other hand officials still support them in some sense[2](Jahangir, 2004). Why do average citizens employ these groups in order to protect their businesses? Again, it is difficult to give an explanation, however it is known that street children are already negatively stereotyped, that they belong to a group that is socially categorized as a dangerous one. Their status is maintained by confirmation bias, and media plays a special role in maintenance of their status (AI, 2003), so citizens then can perceive that their security and resources to be threatened by their presence, however, as the Realistic Conflict theory states, it is more prejudice than real threats. Also social influences are likely to exist; pressures towards conformity can be exerted by some businessmen, or others can learn by observation how this drastic measure is effective (Feldman, 1993). Also, both assassins and people who require their services have chosen to engage in crime, and as the Rational Choice theory posits, they probably have evaluated the pros and cons and, obviously, their acts are directed towards a specific objective which can be achieved without many risks (Feldman, 1993).


[1]For example, in words of one Major from the Rio’s military police: “it might be that a good policeman kills because he doesn't believe in another solution[…]when the system gives the sensation of impunity to the police, many police officers, even those tat are, in quotes `well-intentioned´, take this kind of drastic decision to kill a person that has committed a crime” (Dowdney, 2003, pp. 86, in IA, 1993)

[2]For example, deputy from the Rio’s legislative assembly, Wolney Trindade, stated: “Today with the question of human rights protection, scum think they can do what they want,[…], as I’ve said before and as I say again, if any more die, I’ll pay for the coffin and reward whoever kills them”. (Diário Oficial, 2001, in IA, 1993”

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Candelária massacre. Prejudice towards Brazilian street children
Nottingham Trent University
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candelária, prejudice, brazilian
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Marcos Alonso Rodriguez (Author), 2005, Candelária massacre. Prejudice towards Brazilian street children, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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