Monday, August 22, 2011

Sugar and Spice?

Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.
19th century English nursery rhyme.

Not in São Paulo, folks.
Our little girls are made of sterner stuff.

Since last October a gang of them has been terrorizing the Vila Mariana neighborhood.

Almost all of them are thought to be under twelve.
And some are as young as nine.

The girls have taken to sweeping through supermarkets where some of them distract the staff while others grab merchandise and run.

And holding scissors, or knives, to the throats of individual shopkeepers, while their little colleagues help themselves to the stock.

And hanging around schools, where they steal backpacks and cell phones from students.

And assaulting people on the street, relieving them of their purses and wallets by threatening them with weapons they purport to have hidden under their clothing.

So why don’t the cops arrest them?
Well, the fact of the matter is they have – dozens of times.

But Brazilian law prohibits charging children under the age of twelve with criminal acts, not one of them will admit to being any older, and they make it a point not to carry identity documents.

The girls claim to be abandoned, living on the streets, and when reporters show up, they hide under the hoodies they wear, so their images can’t be circulated.

And the cops are left with no other choice but to send them to a shelter.

From which they promptly escape – and, as one cop put it, “are back on the job within an hour.”

“We’ve tried, time after time, to get their true names and ages,” one social worker said, “but they either lie or refuse to talk.”

But she doesn’t buy their story that they’ve living on the streets.

Street kids in São Paulo, of which there are many, show different characteristics.
They’re denied an opportunity to bathe, so they’re dirtier – and often addicted to drugs.
These girls are clean, well-nourished, reasonably well-dressed and seldom addicted.
All sure signs they’ve got a home somewhere.
But finding it?
That’s the problem.

Every now and then the authorities get lucky.
And manage to track down a parent.

For all the good it does.

Witness this quote from one such parent, recorded by a reporter who stuck her microphone through the window of a toilet, where the mother thought she was having a confidential conversation with her daughter.

The girl, at the time, had just been busted for robbing the same boutique two times in succession.

“How dumb can you be, huh?” the mother said, “You should know you never go back to the same place twice?”

Leighton - Monday


  1. What's Portuguese for "Damon Runyan?"

  2. Leighton, you make my upcoming trip to São Paulo this week seem more and more like a bad idea. Gangs of kids on the street really aren't anything new though. If memory serves me right, the frustrated reaction from the police in the past has been to shoot the kids. But then, as you have recently written, the police get caught and the judge who is going to prosecute them is murdered. Why can't the laws about dealing with youthful offenders be modified? Oh, I forget, this is Brazil where the nuts come from.

  3. Unfortunately, this form of child abuse is common. A woman was carrying her infant in a carrier into which she was stuffing items. Kids have been trained to be distractions so the adults can pilfer at will. If a child is crying and clearly in distress, everyone's attention is on the child.

    Parents teach their children all sorts of wrong things by example. The home that is always stocked with printer paper and ink cartridges that come home from the office teaches a serious lesson about stealing as a perk of employment.

    Kids listen and they understand more than the adults give them credit for. When a fender bender turns into a suit against the other driver and the child hears the parent describe something other than what really happened, then lying for financial gain is a lesson learned.

    Parents commit acts of child abuse all the time and it has nothing to do with physical punishment. Like the line in the song from "South Pacific" about prejudice, "you've got to be carefully taught...before you are six or seven or eight", felonious behavior can be a family value, too.

  4. Boy, that's a heartbreaker. There are so many places in this world where it's dangerous to be a child, and some of them are right here. Distressing post, Leighton.

  5. nice post dear blogger