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BRAZIL
Violent life, early death
IPS
9/30/2002
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At least half of the 10,000 people "employed" in the drug trade in Rio de Janeiro are under age 18, according to a study of young people involved in organized armed violence. According to police statistics, 3,937 minors were shot to death in Rio de Janeiro between December 1987 and November 2001.

"For every one who dies or who we manage to withdraw from the activity, there are 20 more ready to get involved," said Luke Dowdney, a British anthropologist who has lived in Brazil for the past four years, who coordinated the study.

The death rate among adolescents between ages 15 and 17 is eight times that of 13- and 14-year-olds, indicating that youths move into armed activities around age 15. Younger children work as drug distributors, lookouts or messengers. The report partly attributed the high rate of deaths and injuries from stray bullets to the drug traffickers’ age — because they lack precision with firearms, adolescents compensate by shooting indiscriminately with automatic weapons.

The researchers, who interviewed youths, residents of low-income neighborhoods, doctors, police, drug dealers and former dealers, set out to define Brazil’s youth violence — which is different from the gang violence of other countries — and identify its social and economic causes.

"Social exclusion and the lack of prospects for their lives are the main causes," Dowdney said. Of the more than 100 youths interviewed, half said they would prefer not to be involved in crime.

Rebecca Peters, director of the International Action Network on Small Arms, said that easier access to weapons is another factor in the high mortality rate among youths. While the most common weapons in the 1980s were .38-caliber revolvers, drug dealers are now armed with Russian- and US-made automatic weapons.

Single bullet wounds used to be the most common injuries, but emergency room doctors now care for "youths who are mutilated, with an arm or leg destroyed," Dowdney said. The study, which was released Sept. 9, can be found at www.desarme.org. — IPS


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