Brazil. Committed to helping young people

Spreading the culture of life to realities of violence and death. This is the goal of the Legal Project. Father Saverio Paolillo, a supporter of this initiative, talks to us about it.

Gabriel, one of our children, looks 12, but we don’t know his real age since his birth was never officially recorded. He used to wander around and sniff shoemakers’ glue. He often stopped behind the gates of our center to watch the other children. We invited him more than once to stay in our centre and participate in our project, but after a few days he would leave. Then, all of a sudden, the miracle happened: Gabriel decided to stick to our initiative. He has been joining the Legal Project regularly for about a year now. He is attending the first year of primary school and doesn’t sniff glue anymore and lives with one of his sisters. He got to the right weight for him, and the mycosis he was suffering from was eliminated. Still a veil of sadness covers his face. When someone mentions violence against children, Gabriel bursts into tears. It is evident that memories of the aggressions he suffered during his denied childhood come back to him. He prefers not to talk about that, but you can see the pain in his eyes. Then, he finally smiles again. Life has not yet given him what he deserves, most of all the care of a loving family. The wounds of his body have been healed but those of his soul are still open and probably they will always be.

Nevertheless, he desperately wants to live. Giving up sniffing glue is really tough, yet Gabriel has not sniffed glue for over a year now. He has rejected drugs and criminality and thus has already scored a victory against death, and this is not an exaggeration, since drugs and crime lead to a tragic crossroads: prison or death. I must confess that I do not know what is worse: ending up in prison is like being buried alive in a social coffin where human dignity putrefies. The Brazilian prison system often, with a few rare exceptions, dehumanizes individuals who later find it really difficult to reintegrate into society. The risk of recidivism is very high. I have lived in Brazil for 30 years and I have seen the brutality existing in both juvenile and adult prisons. Overcrowding levels in some facilities are four times higher than their design capacity. Many prisons lack hygiene and acceptable living conditions. Permanent inactivity of detainees, tortures and abuses by the prison guards are still unresolved problems in the Brazilian prison system. In addition to all this, it must be underlined that many prisons are controlled by criminal organizations. In the state of Paraiba, where I currently live, the prisons are under the control of the same factions that dominate the drug trafficking in the neighborhoods on the periphery. Crime bosses give orders via mobile phones, which continue to be smuggled even into ‘high-security’ prisons.

The inmates have to obey bosses’ orders, or else they get killed. The prison officers work in terrible conditions and are unable to put an end to this situation, so they often resort to repressive methods in order to maintain order and discipline. Rehabilitation is impossible in this context. Those Brazilian teenagers living in difficult realities and who do not end up in jail, often face death. A recent study showed that 3,32 out of one thousand Brazilian adolescents (aged 12 to 18), living in a city with over 100,000 inhabitants, run the risk of being killed before they are 19 years old. According to research data, the highest rates of violence against adolescents are recorded in the north-eastern region of the country. Here 5.97 kids out of a thousand, risk their lives. The risk is three times higher among Afro-descendants than among their white peers. Some of Gabriel’s young neighbours had already ended up in jail or were shot dead.

The Legal Project is aimed at preventing these tragic events. The people involved in this initiative are committed to helping young people to live a simple life but as protagonists, with freedom and responsibility. A life characterized by values, dignity, access to rights and the full exercise of citizenship. The Legal Project is the initiative of those on the front line to save kids from the clutches of death and to spread the culture of life.