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How to Explain Brazil’s Hundreds of Thousands of Kids Living in the Streets?

Brazilian street kid Historians will find it difficult to explain Brazilian society’s great disdain for its children. How could the world’s sixth economy possibly have been incapable of providing decent, competent care to its children, leaving millions of them out of preschool?

How could this have been done while knowing that hundreds of thousands of mothers are obliged to leave their preschool-age children under the care of their other children, some as young as age ten, who have been removed from school for this work?

Why, in this rich society, are 3.5 million of its 50 million school-age children still not in school? Why, moreover, do the great majority of those enrolled miss class, skip school, drop out and not learn?

Why do only 40% finish secondary school and do that in courses without quality? How was it possible to treat children with such inequality, depending to their parents’ income?

In addition, how, in the 21st century, can we explain why hundreds of thousands of boys and girls live in the streets of Brazil and around 100 thousand are sexually exploited?

And how, 20 years from now, will it be possible to explain that in the previous 20 years at least 10 thousand children will have been killed, an average of 14 per day?

The historians will find it perplexing that this landscape of child misery has persisted, despite that the fact that since 1924 Brazil has commemorated the Day of the Child on October 12.

Some historians will say that the mistreatment and abandonment are myths created about the past. Others will give cultural explanations: the egotistic, improvident imagination of the Brazilian population, giving preference to present material consumption, a people who neither respect intellectual activity nor consider the accumulation of knowledge as wealth.

Others will limit themselves to saying that the society divided by a history of social apartação cared for the few children of the rich minority, leaving behind the masses of children who are the offspring of the poor.

The historians will find it difficult to explain the indecency of this abandonment and stupidity, the sacrifice of the greatest potential at a society’s disposal: its future, represented by its children.

However, the historians will have to recognize one thing: that the landscape of violence, inefficiency, corruption, inequality and civilizatory backwardness in 2012 stems from the way the children were treated in the past.

The Brazil of today is the country constructed by the children of yesterday; and the Brazil of tomorrow will be a reflection of the manner that we are treating the children of today.

If we want Brazil to have a bright future, we must care for the children of the present and do this in a manner different from that of the past.

As former Senator Heloísa Helena says, “Brazil needs to adopt a generation of its children, from the pre-natal state to the completion of quality secondary school for all.”

Those children adopted today will adopt the Brazil of tomorrow. Brazil’s future depends upon the way they care for the country, in spontaneous reciprocity of what they received in the past.

Cristovam Buarque (CBUARQUE@senado.gov.br) is a professor at the University of Brasília and a senator (PDT-DF).

Translated by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com).

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