Drug violence in Fortaleza, Brazil: the forgotten orphans

Dozens of children roam the streets of Fortaleza. They are alone, they have no opportunities, and receive no assistance from the state. Español

Marcia Feitosa
13 May 2018

Source: Cosecha Roja. All Rights Reserved.

Torn apart, mutilated, amputated parents of children unable to understand exactly what they are searching for alone in the streets. In the case of the victims, depending on the charity available they search for a means to survive, nostalgic for a time when they were locked inside due to the so called war against drugs.

How do you explain to a child that 5000 more people were victims of executions in the last year alone in the state of Ceará alongside their father? There is simply no way. There is nothing comforting about nostalgia from a life that could have been.

Scattered around the streets and with eyes of hunger, the orphan victims of the war between different factions in Fortaleza suffer without assistance, without guidance, without anyone thinking of them.

They do not know if they are going to eat today, if they will be alive tomorrow. They do not know who to turn to. All alone from traffic light to traffic light in a city that robbed them of their opportunities.

A barefoot child in the doorway of a café of a fast food chain on Avenida Santos Dumont is prevented from entering by the private security guards, even though he guaranteed he had enough money to pay for his food.

Upon hearing the argument of “if we let you in you might ask for money or make the customers uncomfortable again”, at 11 years of age he already knows they do not want him. He cannot get too close, he is not one of the chosen ones. 

After some insistence, he enters. He eats a sandwich in only a few pressured bites. Later he reveals “All I wanted right now was to go to see a dentist cause I can’t sleep from tooth-ache. When I get there, the woman sends me away and tells me to call my mum. Another thing I really wanted was a pair of shoes because barefoot I can’t get on the road in time to ask for money from cars when the light’s green, the asphalt is really hot.”

Some children still come into this world destined to a life in chains, the chains of their own parents. Slaves of their circumstances.

A dentist and some shoes are the wishes of a child who does not even have documentation. Officially, he does not exist. He never went to school, he lived in various neighbourhoods. After his father was killed in June 2017, he went to live with his 16-year-old brother.

The mother had to be hospitalised after various relapses. “The mother seemed crazy, the father brought her drugs. After he died, she had no more. She even hit people. One day a man from church arrived and took her to the hospital, I don’t know where she is.”

A young girl claims to be 7 years old according to the fingers she shows when asked. She asks for money outside a restaurant in Aldeota. She exists, but is invisible.

She has documents, goes to school, wants to be a doctor in a community of the neighbourhood in which she is a beggar, she lives with an aunt and she knows that her mother is in jail, but her extended hand seems unnoticeable alongside the refined perfume and shiny shoes that pass her by every day.

Most do not even glance at that tiny person that repeats like a machine “Hey, could you give me a dollar”. If it was dependent on prayers then they surely would. Sat on the floor, an elderly woman with her hands clasped watching carefully over the luxurious tower blocks says: “If god wills it my child, you will be a doctor”.

Free Womb

The 28th of September of 1871 was determined by the ‘Law of the Free Womb’ which claimed every female child of a slave born after that date would be free. 147 years later, some children still come into this world destined to a life in chains, the chains of their own parents. Slaves of their circumstances.

7 months pregnant, a woman of 23 years old is holding a two year old in her arms on the corner of one of the busiest streets of Fortaleza.

They killed my husband. I tried to get the child out. Have an abortion you know? But it didn’t work. Now I feel guilty, because the doctor says it’ll be born paralysed. 

“They killed my husband. I tried to get the child out. Have an abortion you know? But it didn’t work. Now I feel guilty, because the doctor says it’ll be born paralysed. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. What kind of future can I give these children?” She declared whilst tears poured down her face and she received money from the open window of a car, a window open only enough to hand her the money and no more.

Also with no way out is a woman of 26 years of age, recently arrived at the home of a relative in the neighbourhood of Quintino Cunha.

With three sons of 8, 5 and 3, she ran from the community in which she had been living after her partner was murdered. “They told me to leave my home. I left with the clothes on my back and some things for the children. The guy that threw me out gave a gun to my 5 year old son and told him to shoot. The poor kid couldn’t use it, and was told it was cause he was weak like his dad. He only knows what it’s like to run for his life and to feel hungry”.

Without wanting to converse much, at 13 years old the child approaches cars on the Rua Padre Antonio Tomas. His father was murdered and he moved in with his mother to his grandmother’s house. Life made him an adult, it changed his dreams and his desires.

In the doorway of a finance agency, an elderly lady sits on the floor with a child in her lap and whilst she gives instructions to the 8 year old, she bends down to place food on the table for the 5 grandchildren that live with her.

“The first three that arrived were my daughter’s. She brought the two children here so they could stay with me. I spent my life cleaning and pressing clothes for others, and just when I thought I was free, 5 children in need appear. I’m just scared of dying and leaving them alone.”

The child consoles the grandmother. She says she won’t die because she is big and strong. Contrary to her cousin she does not complain about having to beg for money and go to school.

“When I was living with mum I had food every day and didn’t go out to beg, but she hit me a lot. Sometimes it still hurts and she would hit again. With my grandma she only asks for me to beg but she’s good.”

The grandmother confirms: “There’s no other way. I have no way of getting money to buy food for so many people”. She says she wants her grandchildren to have a better life than her children. “I never thought my life would end like this. I fought so much and when I think about what I’m living I see myself at the beginning: without anything, with loads of kids and without a way to improve the situation”.  


This article is being published in the framework of our partnership with Cosecha Roja. The original can be read here.

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