RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Vivianne Moraes, 31, was always afraid of letting her son play alone in the street.
But after the May 2011 installation of a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) in the Morro São Carlos favela on the north side of Rio de Janeiro, she stopped worrying.
She knows Guilherme, 11, can play soccer with his friends at the “little field” and play in other parts of the favela without being watched by a family member.
“Circulating freely through the community has been very important for his maturity and self-esteem,” says Moraes, who works at a local community daycare center.
But mothers aren’t the only residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas who are concerned with their children, as a series of initiatives aimed at improving children’s lives is occurring in pacified communities.
One of them is the children’s pamphlet “UPP: A Conquista Da Paz” (“UPP: The Achievement of Peace”), which was distributed in the Vidigal favela, located on Rio’s south side, during the inauguration of the local UPP. The literature was published by the Public Safety Ministry of Rio de Janeiro and features text and illustrations by Ziraldo, who created “O Menino Maluquinho,” an iconic character of Brazilian children’s literature.
The booklet explains the concept of citizenship, showing the importance of the rights and responsibilities of each individual in society. It also discusses the integration of the community and police.
“I began the pamphlet explaining that a citizen is a person who is aware of his rights and responsibilities. If everyone understood what it meant to be a citizen, life would be easier,” Ziraldo said at the inauguration of the UPP. “I was very happy to do this project. I hope it helps in the process of pacifying these communities.”
Ziraldo says the best way to reach families is through their children.
“The pamphlet came out nicely,” he says. “It’s colorful and printed on good paper, so everyone wants to take one home. When children learn something, they take the message back to their parents.”
UPP officer and ballet teacher
Initiatives by UPP officers also have also been winning over local children.
In the Cidade de Deus favela, on the west side of Rio de Janeiro, a police officer from the local UPP, Rafaela Malta, teaches ballet to area children. Every afternoon, she gives free classes to approximately 70 girls in the courtyard of CIEP Luiz Carlos Prestes, one of the community’s public schools.
Before Malta offered the classes, the school was where young people congregated to use drugs at night.
At Cidade de Deus and other pacified favelas, UPP officers also give an array of free classes, including soccer, karate, English and music.
Since June 2011, UPP officers in the Morro do Borel favela have been taking entire classes of children from local schools on tours through downtown Rio de Janeiro.
The students and teachers board a Military Police bus, have lunch at police headquarters and visit Rio’s museums and historic sites, with officers serving as tour guides.
Research focuses on children
The NGO Centro de Criação de Imagem Popular (CECIP) conducted two studies, in 2010 and 2011, on children residing in favelas.
The first study, “O impacto sobre a primeira infância das políticas de segurança pública e iniciativas comunitárias em comunidades urbanas de baixa renda” (“Early childhood impacts of public safety policies and community initiatives in low-income urban communities”), was carried out in two of Rio de Janeiro’s pacified favelas – Dona Marta and Morro dos Macacos – and one in Salvador’s Calabar, which lacked public safety initiatives.
The researchers examined group dynamics among children and interviewed residents, parents, community leaders and local authorities. More than 300 people participated in the study.
In the second study, “Criança Pequena em Foco – Marco Zero: as políticas públicas de segurança e de urbanização das favelas do Rio de Janeiro e atenção dada às crianças pequenas” (“Little Children in Focus – Ground Zero: public safety and urbanization policies in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the attention given to little children”), approximately 20 people were interviewed, including representatives from the Chapéu Mangueira, Providência and Morro dos Macacos favelas, as well as officials from UPPs and government agencies.
“We could see the positive impacts of the introduction of UPPs in these communities. But we went out into the field to hear the assessment of residents and find out what’s missing, particularly in relation to little children,” says Cláudia Ceccon, a project coordinator at CECIP.
Researcher Beatriz Pérez, who coordinated the research visits, regrets children are not the primary focus of the majority of public policies.
“We do see initiatives that will indirectly benefit children when they’re implemented, but they weren’t designed for this group,” she says.
Pérez cites as an example the projects and improvements carried out through Morar Carioca, a program introduced in 2010 by the Department of Housing to promote social inclusion through the urban and social integration of all of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.
“The research conducted by Morar Carioca and the dialogue about what would be implemented did not include children, only men and women, ages 14 to 24,” Pérez says. “And children deserve special attention in an urbanization project, since there are so few spaces where they can safely circulate and play.”
Life in the favelas
Despite all of the problems they encounter, favela residents like where they live and the majority don’t want to leave, the studies concluded.
Approximately 92.3% of those interviewed positively identified with the places where they live. However, they also see the need for improvements.
“The quick arrival of the UPPs created an expectation that all of the other public services would be quick to arrive, too,” Pérez says. “What the residents really want are sanitation services, effective garbage collection, more daycare centers and permanent schools, new job training opportunities and spaces for children to play.”
UPP Social – the program that oversees these improvements – coordinates the efforts of a variety of municipal agencies and promotes partnerships with government officials at the state and federal levels, and representatives from the private sector and civil society.
In some communities, such as the Complexo do Alemão, UPP Social arrived before the UPP.
Economist Ricardo Henriques, who serves as president of Instituto Pereira Passos (IPP) and heads UPP Social, says it’s not always possible to meet a community’s expectations.
“A community’s hopes and needs don’t always coincide with the efficiency of the government machine,” Henriques says in the CECIP study.
In Dona Marta, Rio de Janeiro’s first pacified favela, residents are most concerned about open sewers (45.3%), the accumulation of garbage (43.8%) and lack of public services (25%). Violence and public safety were not cited as problems.
“A lot has changed since the arrival of the UPP, but we’re looking forward to the arrival of UPP Social,” says 33-year-old Dona Marta resident Agda Souza, a general services assistant. “We know that garbage collection is going to become a reality soon, but it’s hard to live in a dirty place.”
She says that prior to pacification, community street sweepers did the job and were paid by a community association. After the arrival of the UPP, garbage collection began to be organized by the Municipal Urban Cleaning Company (COMLURB), which has yet to reach the upper parts of the favela.
More rookies, women
Another issue addressed in the research is the training received by UPP officers. According to CECIP researchers, the police academy does not offer training on handling children and adolescents.
“Police officers are still trained according to the logic of confrontation,” Pérez says. “They have not necessarily been conditioned to act as conflict mediators and deal with children. Although recently [the police] realized [the need] to review the recruiting and training process for these officers.”
Col. Rogério Seabra, the coordinator of the UPPs, says a change in police training started after the installation of the first unit.
“We’re learning as we go,” he says. “We discovered, for example, that police with less time in the academy are more likely to succeed at the UPPs because they’ve never experienced a confrontation, never taken a bullet and are better at building relationships with the community.”
He adds that women are also often better at community policing.
“If it were up to me, I would put a much larger contingent of women in the UPPs,” he says. “Right now, only 9% of the UPP officers are women.”