Brazil Working to Protect Children

The article ``Social Cleansing Targets Street Children,'' Jan. 6, reflects an outdated perception of the problem of violence against youngsters in Brazil; it does not take into account the significant progress made in the last few years.

Findings of a recent study by the Institute of Religion Studies, a widely respected Rio de Janeiro-based nongovernmental organization, reveal that the vast majority of victims of violent death among minors are teenagers, particularly in the 15-17-year-old age group, living in the suburbs and involved in drug dealing. Children, both in the streets and within their families, amount to only 6.6 percent of the total murder toll in the population group aged 0-17. The tragedy of Candelaria last July, however serious, is not a typical incident involving children living in the streets, but rather a dramatic exception to it.

This is not to say that we accept the situation as it stands now. All forms of violence against children and adolescents, no matter where it takes place, reveal severe social malfunctions that need to be corrected. Brazil, through governmental and nongovernmental initiatives, is working decisively toward that goal.

Our effort is already paying off, as acknowledged recently by the executive director of UNICEF, James Grant. At a press conference held in Washington, D.C., Mr. Grant stated that ``the coming of the essentials of democracy to Brazil [has] greatly strengthened the forces for the protection of children, and so these killings are down substantially. Now, it is worth noting that world attention [increases] when eight or 10 children get massacred, as they were in Rio not long ago. ... But then we have to come back to ourselves and say, last year some 6,000 or 7,000, which would be 20 children a day, were dying from gunshots in the United States on a daily basis. This was not a one-day thing. It happens day in, day out.'' Paulo-Tarso Flecha de Lima, Washington Brazilian Ambassador to the US

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