Children Work on the Streets of Brazil’s Capital City

By Bruna Santos
July 08, 2009

BRASILIA, Brazil – Child labor in Brasília is becoming more common day by day. The laboring children work mostly on the streets selling candies, flowers, stickers and other small items. Some perform services, such as watching over cars or washing them in public parking lots. Others shine shoes.

Brasília has 2 million inhabitants and is the city with highest per capita income in the country, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. But research done by the Federal Policy Department shows that about 7,512 children are now working on the streets.

Most of these children come from low-income families, and their parents do not have a steady job or do not make enough money to take care of their children. So, the children work on the streets to help buy food and pay for bills.

“These children do not have good life prospects because the work denies them a normal life, and they don’t even have dreams,” said Geraldo Marcelino dos Santos, 34, the president of the Public Tutelary Council in Novo Gama, a neighboring city.

The Brazilian National Congress approved the Statute of Children and Adolescents in July 1990 to guarantee children the right to health care, proper nutrition, education, leisure activities, a home, and other essentials. Almost 20 years later, the situation has improved but is far from ideal.

For too many children here, these rights simply do not exist. Instead, they carry heavy obligations for their young ages. “I sell stickers because my mom is pregnant, and my father doesn’t have enough money to keep our family,” said Marcos, a 13-year-old boy who did not want his last name published out of fear that his parents would beat him.

Wesley Pereira, 12, and his brothers, Walisson Pereira, 14, and Wellington Pereira, 16, sell candy at a busy downtown intersection for 9 hours a day. They have been working at that intersection for more than a year, said Wesley. They earn about 150 reais ($68 U.S.) a day, but must spend 60 reais ($28 U.S.) of that to buy candy for the next day, they said. That means the three brothers take home a combined 90 reais — $41 U.S., or less than $14 each per day. That may not seem like much but it’s more than the minimum wage their mother would earn if she worked as a housemaid. The boys said their mother is unemployed and the father died a year ago.

“It’s very common to have parents who are unemployed for a long time to put their kids to work,” said dos Santos. “One of the reasons is because they get more money than if the parents worked full-time on unskilled jobs.”

Wesley said his mother worries about them working on streets because it is dangerous. When the traffic light is red and the cars stop, the brothers run between them offering candies. But when the traffic light changes and the cars start moving again, the boys must get out of the way quickly. “My mother is afraid we will get run over,” he said.

Child labor in Brasilia is not new. Celso Maurício da Silva, 50, said he worked as a child. “I was 6 years old when I started working,” said da Silva. “We had a big family: my mother and four children. My mother used to make homemade bread and I would sell it in the morning before going to school and in the afternoon, after school.”

He said he gave the money he earned to his mother. “She would pay the bills and buy food for us,” he recalled. “I used to work weekends as well. When I had time, I played soccer or something like that, but it was just a few times.”

He finished high school when he was 20, and became a taxi driver. “Nowadays, I have three daughters and I don’t want them to work,” he said. “It is not right for children to work because they lack time to play. I know it because it happened to me.”