Brazilian society is filled with all kinds of prejudices and hierarchies that engender a culture of exclusion, which underlies social practices at all levels. The result is a stratification of social positions and social rights. There is also an absence of critical public opinion capable of mobilizing society to address the country’s age-old poverty in its varied dimensions (Carvalho 1995). It is true that, with the redemocratization of Brazil that began in the 1980s, these problems have become the center of a broad social movement on behalf of marginalized children and youth. That movement achieved some highly significant changes and legal advances—chiefly the passage in 1990 of the Child and Adolescent Statute-Law 8069/90.
The statute was grounded in a radical criticism of the old and bankrupt welfare-oriented and repressive model that had been the basis of government policies and actions. The statute defined children and adolescents as subjects of rights that must be respected because of their special status as developing persons. It adopted a concept of comprehensive protection of children through policies that guarantee the right to life, proper nutrition, education, health, vocational training, dignity, respect, freedom, leisure time, and family and community life, inter alia. The statute attributed responsibility for the effective observance of those rights not only to the family and the state but also to the community and society at large. It gave priority to the formulation and execution of social policies and the allocation of resources to areas related to the protection of children and adolescents, and proposed new structures and modes of serving that population that involve the participation of representatives of the society in their design, implementation, and follow-up.
But few of these provisions have actually materialized. The persistence of the Brazilian economic crisis, together with policies of structural adjustment and the restructuring of the production sector, has exacerbated the pauperization and the exclusion of most of Brazil’s population and has penalized its children and youth even more acutely. Workers and families that previously enjoyed a relatively stable living situation have begun to swell the ranks of the homeless, assuming the role of the new poor. And the state’s fiscal crisis and tremendous deterioration in the government structure and public services resulted in a vacuum, or in the bankruptcy of policies that ensure access to the aforementioned rights.
The institutional apparatus and its repressive practices have not been deactivated. Despite international trends and recommendations, which argue for mobilizing every