Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros23Dossier thématiquePartie 3 : La ville vécue par les...The Favela (Slum) As A City – Chi...

Dossier thématique
Partie 3 : La ville vécue par les enfants

The Favela (Slum) As A City – Children Growing Up In Territories Of Public (In)Security

La favela comme ville – Quand les enfants grandissent en territoires publics (non) sécurisés
Adelaide Rezende de Souza et Lucia Rabello de Castro


Les études sur les enfants du Sud passent souvent à côté de la richesse des possibilités de vivre une enfance et de donner un sens à sa vie d’enfant dans des endroits où l’adversité est omniprésente. Dans les territoires habités par les classes inférieures au Brésil, comme dans l’ensemble des bidonvilles connus sous le nom de « favelas de Maré » à Rio de Janeiro, le manque d’infrastructures, les innombrables violations des droits de l’homme, les difficultés économiques et autres défis vécus par la grande majorité des enfants ont un impact significatif sur leur développement et leur subjectivité. Cependant, il s’agit de territoires qui ont une histoire de lutte, y compris de « résistance lente », avant les interventions militaires et policières, et de capacité des habitants à préserver leurs moyens de subsistance au milieu des rivalités entre les factions armées de trafiquants de drogue et les milices. Dans cet article, nous cherchons à analyser comment le fait d’être un enfant dans la favela de Maré implique de vivre la rue comme une continuité de la maison. En dépit du fait que les rues sont souvent considérées comme des endroits dangereux où les enfants ne devraient pas être autorisés à vivre seuls, à Maré les enfants choisissent d’être dans les rues où ils peuvent exercer une plus grande autonomie sur leur vie en apprenant à connaître et à comprendre les codes sociaux locaux et en développant leur connaissance de cet espace public. Considérer la favela comme une ville pour les enfants devient pertinent dans la mesure où cela défie le regard porté sur un quartier où le nombre d’enfants tués par des « balles perdues » n’est, pour beaucoup, qu’une froide statistique de la violence dans certaines parties de Rio de Janeiro.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

We thank the Carlos Chagas Research Foundation of the State of Rio de Janeiro for the support to write this article.

  • 1 Andrea Szulc, “La antropología frente a los niños: De la omisión a las culturas infantiles”, VII Co (...)
  • 2 Tatek Abebe and Yaw Ofosu-Kusi, “Beyond pluralizing African childhoods: Introduction”, Childhood [o (...)

1Studies of children in the countries of the Global South show that the richness derived from the diversity of living childhood and understanding oneself as a child in different cultures and territories is often overlooked. As many authors1 have discussed, Southern childhoods are often contrasted with those of richer and developed countries, depicted as lacking, deficient and, quite often, non-normative in relation to the idealized model of the scholarized, familialized individual protected by parents and the State. Therefore, it seems necessary to take into account the colonial past and the geopolitical context of the countries involved, in order that childhoods of the South are not characterized as “deviant”, “deficient” or abnormal2. In Brazil, in popular spaces such as the set of favelas of Maré, in Rio de Janeiro, the absence of infrastructure, the multiple violations of rights, the economic difficulties and other challenges experienced by a significant part of the children, bring about a complex and contradictory reality. This situation mixes up potentialities and limitations. The scenario of the favelas of Maré is, in our view, a “city” within the city of Rio de Janeiro, where its residents, including children, have to deal daily with an environment of hostilities that sharpens their capacities both for survival and collective solidarity in the absence of the assistance of public healthcare facilities, public safety and leisure opportunities that exist in other parts in the city.

  • 3 Julia Oliveira Moraes, “A urgência do letramento racial e do antirracismo na educação brasileira”, (...)
  • 4 Amber Murrey, “Slow dissent and the emotional geographies of resistance”, Singapore Journal of Trop (...)

2Moraes3 points out that, in Brazil, the Black population is subjected to a situation of precariousness of their quality of life. This fact is a constitutive milestone of Brazilian society. It makes Brazil a territory of terror for some social groups who are considered inferior. In the favelas of Maré, Black and Brown people constitute the majority of the population, the same racial percentage in other favelas in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. The scenario of the favelas shows that racism is updated, gaining new defenders and increasingly sophisticated social practices. On the other hand, the city spaces called favelas are places that have histories of struggle and resistance, ranging from what Murrey4 has called “slow dissent” – a state of unveiled dissatisfaction, revolt and intermittent resistance movements – in face of the military occupations and police interventions in the favelas to the rivalry between armed groups of the retail drug trafficking and the militia. In both cases, residents have to build subjective and relational capacities in order to maintain their lives in the face of armed violence.

  • 5 S. Rosendo, “As Sonoridades das Favelas: dos Agudos e Graves a Ausência de Som de Um Território Nad (...)
  • 6 Glauci Coelho, Cristiane Rose Duarte, Vera M. R. de Vasconcellos, “A criança e o espaço vividofavel (...)

3The spaces in the city called favelas are generally made up of houses very close to each other, with small internal spaces, where families – made up of many people, especially children – live. In the hot tropical climate of Brazil, favela streets become like an extension of the house. This represents a space for exchanges and leisure where adults and children usually spend most of their time. When walking through the streets, which are very narrow and winding, it is common to observe people carrying out many activities in the public space, such as adults playing cards or dominoes on plastic tables on the sidewalk, or even improvising a table made with a metal plate. This often happens while children are playing around. Rosendo5 states that the noises of the streets of the favela mix different sounds: children playing, the gossip going on between neighbors, cries of fights and conflicts, the loud sound of parties or barbecue parties on weekends, the fairs in which almost everything is sold, the rumbling of cars and motorcycles, the praying in the churches, the noises of families’ celebrations and fights, the uproarious youth groups. In this noisy and plurivocal urban universe, favela children establish affective relationships with the place which consolidate their identities in constant interactions with the environment: “[…] childhood interactions in these environments build children’s culturally lived space where, as they are affectively mobilized by their experiences in this space, they become able to build values and organize their being in the world”.6

4Even with tight, dark, disputed streets and too few squares where it is possible to play, as there is no planning for leisure activities – and the spaces that, one day, had this function, were taken over by shops or other activities, it is frequent to note the presence of children jumping rope, playing tag, riding a bicycle, flying a kite, playing soccer, dominoes or, simply, talking.

Illustration 1 and 2: Children playing in the street alone or with adults © Arthur Vianna.

  • 7 Para Uglione, A rua como caminho religações no campo da infância”, in: Lucia Rabello de Castro (ed (...)

5It is in this way that, for many children, the house and the street are lived as continuous spaces that build up their subjectivity and social conviviality differently from what happens in other spaces of the city where, in general, children are not allowed to go out into the streets, except when accompanied by adults. According to Uglione7, children and the street, in a long and continuous process of urban modernization, have become antagonistic poles. But, in many favelas in Maré, even with the strong presence of armed men and the imminence that a shootout can happen at any moment, it is common for children to walk freely through the streets. Children realize the dangers they are exposed to, but at the same time they have to develop the wit to dodge them. Circulating through the streets of this city within the city exposes children to the coexistence with different forms of violence, at the same time that it encourages them to build friendships, create games and develop the necessary solidarity to live in a place with immense adversities.

  • 8 Yasmin Ramos Peregrino, Ana Laura Rosas Brito, José Augusto Ribeiro Silveira, “O espaço livre públi (...)

6In this paper, we are going to analyze how, for the children of the Maré favela complex, in Rio de Janeiro, the street and home sociabilities intertwine, since these spaces do not have distinct auras of “public” and “private”, as it seems enshrined in the current literature8. Above all, when we emphasize the children’s point of view, the street and the house spatialities do not constitute evident demarcations of danger and protection, respectively, since both the street and the house are considered places of violence, as well as of comfort and solidarity. The research project took into account the reality of living in a historically neglected territory, where the laws of children’s rights are not enforced, thereby not having a significant impact on local experiences. It should be noted that these sociabilities are imbricated in a territory of disputes between rival organizations of the retail of illicit drugs and the constant police operations that knock on the doors of the houses and invade the streets at any day and time with armored vehicles, helicopters and heavy weapons, without prior notice and constant interruptions of public services offered to the population, such as schools, kindergartens, health clinics, among others.

Methodological path

The importance of bonding when researching children in the favelas

  • 9 This was where the children lived on the occasion of the doctoral study of the first author (Souza, (...)
  • 10 Redes da Maré is a civil society institution that produces knowledge, projects and actions, through (...)
  • 11 Juliana Siqueira de Lara, Crianças que cuidam: infância e cuidado no encontro com o outro, PhD thes (...)

7On account of the imminent risks to life, few studies on childhood in favelas rely on the physical presence of the researcher and her immersion in the field over a period of time sufficient to establish a stable and secure bond with the children surveyed, an aspect that is necessary to understand and unravel a reality different from the rest of the city and society in general. In this study, the first immersion in the territory of the favelas of Maré and the initial contacts with the children took place in 2018, well before the pandemic period9. In 2020, during the covid-19 pandemic, the first author of this work was hired by the NGO – Redes da Maré10. In this way, it was possible to continue the immersion in the field, expand and deepen contact and knowledge with the children. Similar to other researchers11 conducting projects with children in the Global South, trust becomes a fundamental asset in child-adult research relationships so that meaningful and constructive interaction between them can be built.

Children, the Maré favela and the methodological procedures

8From 2018 to 2022, the present research project took place in one of the state schools of the Maré favela – Erpidio Cabral de Souza-Índio da Maré – and the nearby streets of the school. From 2021 to 2022 it took place in Redes da Maré, a NGO situated inside the Maré favela. 25 children from 9 to 11 took part in the study in the school context. They were followed along four years, except from 2020 to the beginning of 2022, as schools were closed during the pandemic. During this period a strong relationship was constructed with some of them and their families which made possible a fine understanding of their lives in this context. At first, an extended participant observation was conducted by the main author, in order to get familiar with the school personnel, routines and the children. There were many opportunities to be with children in their daily school rituals: entrance, playtime, classroom attendance, assemblies, as well as school events. Open and unstructured interviews were carried out with children and teachers, and notes were taken down in the research diary. Sometimes, photos and videos were also made, for instance at specific events that the main author organized with the children. Home visits to some of the children’s families took place when the researcher was invited. Thus, extensive data were collected and registered in these diaries providing material to explore and analyze the significant dimensions of daily life.

9From 2021 to 2022, the first author of this paper was hired by the NGO Redes da Maré. The aim was to understand the impact of violence and violations of rights, as well as the care activities performed by families with children in early childhood. 50 families of the Maré favela, representing its 16 different slums, whose children were between 0 to 6, were invited to participate. However, many times the siblings of these children also participated to make it possible for the youngest child to come along. During one year, planned activities were carried out with the children and their adults, separately, discussion groups with the latter, and play activities, drawing, singing and talking with the former. The key themes that were explored both with adults and children were: nutrition, mental health, children’s rights, public security and violence.

10Both stages of the research are imbricated, as the presence of the first author as part of the NGO multidisciplinary team was due to her long-standing research in the school context. The present research focuses, mostly, on the results that were obtained during the first stage of the research, although insights obtained through the discussions and writing of reports during the NGO stage are also intertwined with the analysis about the results obtained in the school context. In the analysis that follows we have focused on the issue of violence in these territories, its impact on children’s lives and how they cope with such an enormous daily strain.

Children’s practices of existence in face of public (in)security, violence, and violations of rights

11The complex condition of living in territories rife with violence imposes, on the one hand, constant exposure to the danger of death and social, psychological damage, pain and suffering; on the other hand, consequently, it leads to the collective and individual construction of sociabilities, relationships and values that can ensure the continuation of life and the pleasure of living. With regard to children, we highlight the effects of their being under constant violence, and how their ways of living present persecutory anxieties caused by a hostile world. We also highlight how the experiences of children in this slum-city reveal possibilities of lesser tutelage and government by adults, freer playful and bodily experimentation, as well as an intense conviviality with peers.

In the target for violence: experiences, reproduction and subjective elaboration

12An important characteristic of children’s lives in Maré is the daily coexistence with different forms of violence and violations of their rights. In this sense, talking about this with children in a territory rife with conflict may help them to psychically elaborate about situations of anguish and fear. This also creates conditions for them to reflect on notions of justice and social rights. However, it should be noted that it was not easy to address this issue, as it is not about “any violence”. In fact, here, they constantly refer to deaths of friends and neighbors, and the daily presence of lethal weapons, physical aggression, facts that do not seem to fit with the lives of such very young children. Foregrounding this reality, we believe to call the attention for the implementation of security policies by the State, which, so far, has acted out a genocidal project that destroys families and interrupts lives, mostly Black. In this way, throughout the various moments with the groups of children, we asked directly how they perceived the violence that took place in Maré. Through their responses and testimonies, it was possible to identify how much their lives are impacted by this aspect. What becomes noteworthy is the constant and prevailing fear, either of being the target for a “stray bullet”, or of having one’s relatives shot or arrested by the police or militia. The enormous suffering caused by such violence, whilst life has to go on, certainly demands an intensive psychic labour from subjects, especially children, extracting their vitality and energy and subjugating them to a daily terror, a sort of paroxysmal state of mind, as in the following excerpt:

[...] one day we were at school and my mother had said the day before that she was going to the dentist... our neighbour brough us home that day, but then when I was on the street, I saw a lot of blood all over the street on the way home from school, then I thought: “it’s my mother’s blood,” because she had gone to the dentist and the dentist did something wrong. I was worried and when I got home our house had been broken into, I almost fainted. Our stereo was all broken down and spread on the floor, then my mother arrived, and I cried! They killed one person at my door and then killed another one, the police dragged them away, there was even a bloodstain, both men died there! I thought I was going to be haunted! Then we moved from this house! (10-year-old girl, residing in the favela of Nova Holanda).

13The above narrative clearly exposes how much violence puts children in a situation of fear, insecurity and sadness, shaking them emotionally. In addition to it, children, especially girls, also talked about other forms and effects of violence. The gender violence terrifies and embarrasses them, as they take part in public spaces.

[...] on the way here today, a man was hitting a woman with a broomstick, after the broomstick broke he took a piece of wood to hit her. She ran behind my mother and another woman grabbed them so he could stop hitting her! I got nervous and my heart started to hurt! (8-year-old girl, residing at the Vila do Pinheiro favela).

14Besides living in a racialized territory, it is a fact that men’s daily life in the favelas is often very different from women’s lives. Walking through the streets of the favela, it is possible to identify a much larger number of men, talking, standing or playing, compared to women. Responsibility for the house and the care of children, even though they are shared with some husbands, when they are present, are predominantly female. It is worth mentioning that, in Maré, many girls become pregnant right at the beginning of their sexually adult life, becoming mothers at a very young age. This aspect restricts the freedom of young mothers to be on the street.

15In a place where different forms of violence are found, it was frequent to observe the reproduction of many forms of violence among children themselves. According to children’s narratives and observations of them playing on the streets, there were frequent situations of embarrassment and violence among them, for example, when boys who live in different favelas begin fighting games with stones, sticks and punches. Many children are hurt in these aggressive games; however children try to manage these situations without adults’ interference, as it is considered shameful, according to the local morality, that children should cry out for adults’ help. In situations when this occurs, adults often stimulate more hostility and divisiveness, menacing and yelling, rather than attempting to listen to children and find a solution to the conflict. Thus, it seems that the effect of having to cope with so much violence around leads to an even more desperate recourse to violence supposing that it will end it. The narrative below of an adult is illustrative of an unending solution to conflicts through recurring to violence:

[…] the difficulties of raising children here is because of the dangers – many thugs and traffic dealers… But another difficulty comes from the neighborhood itself. You have neighbors that don’t respect you and your children, they come along, knock at your door to complain, yelling and so on; the mothers of my children’s mates come here and want to fight. They say it’s because my son has fought with hers...

16Swearing among children is also frequent, whether at play time or not. It is a way of provoking the other, of testing his limits, or of arousing hostility in order to respond with more hostility: [...] Today at school they called the Black boy a monkey! (5-year-old boy, residing in the Vila do Pinheiro favela).

17The effect of violence leaves long-standing psychic damage, as shown by this boy’s narrative as what he does when he hears the shooting of guns near his home:

[...] when I hear guns, I play “Super Mario Bros” at home, sometimes I play football all by myself. [...] When I hear the shooting of guns I am really afraid, as sometimes the helicopter flies right above my house, and the noise is big. I’m afraid of the helicopter as there are men there shooting downwards. Once they shot at my house and all the tiles were broken.

18In addition to the situations mentioned above, a very common acting out of aggressiveness among child residents of Maré is the game of “mocking.” Among children, “mocking” (zoação) appears as an argumentative dispute, in which the performance will impact one’s position of prestige among friends. The point is that the most articulate child in the game is the one who manages to overcome the other with his reasoning and speed. In this game, which takes place as a kind of dialectical dispute, self-assertion is necessary to affirm one’s place. Even swearing or offending the adversary are possible strategies in this universe that is permeated by other elements, such as body movements, gestures, haircuts, ways of walking. Thus, we can say that “mocking” is a playful way of interaction which appeared in several moments of the study, because in this part of the city, the dispute games allow children to exercise self-affirmation when humiliated by the rival. Life in this slum-territory demands strength and vigor to defend one’s life and identity. Children are then impelled to act out disputes in games, once the challenges of the territory summon them from an early age to impose themselves and react vigorously when they feel threatened by other children and adults of the place.

Illustration 3: Dispute games © Arthur Vianna.

Playing in the street: local wisdom emerging in the territory

19Most children can play in the street, as the space in the houses is very limited and few have a backyard or an outdoor area. However, there are also some families that prohibit their children from going to the street for fear of the violence. However, our observations allow us to say that Maré’s street games provide important resources for the self-esteem of residents, since from their childhood days these are important ways to socialize. Generally, children have few toys. Therefore, when toys were offered in some activity, there was great interest and dispute, even physically, when the help of an older brother or sister to break up the fight was needed. However, the conflicts were settled quickly, and soon a way to conciliate was found. This is probably due to the fact that many children resolve their interpersonal impasses without adult interference. This builds in them some sense of justice related to what they think is right or wrong. This aspect highlights one of the advantages that children acquire through conviviality among peers, giving them a certain amount of autonomy to resolve conflicts that arise during interactions.

20In addition, there seems to be a kind of “local wisdom” in the groups, an aspect that reveals their capacity to act on their own, taking initiative to solve impasses or problems. An example took place at a meeting in an external area where a horse threatened to ride across us. At the time, the children did not seem scared and one of them suggested placing a chair and a table as a fence to where we were, a suggestion that was accepted and was successful. This initiative was only possible due to the interaction that children have with horses and other animals, such as chickens, pigs, dogs, that roam the streets of the territory freely. Children’s experiences reflect a local knowledge about the people who live there, including the animals. Many situations occur in the public space before the attentive eyes of children. In this way, they end up building protection strategies, as is the case of the 9-year-old girl who reported the following situation:

[...] but every time my sister Maria and I went there to buy some bread, there were always several people with black cars and they kept calling the children! And very early, before going to school, several black cars appeared calling the children, but every time Maria and I went into the bakery and we only left the bakery when these people left. (9-year-old girl, residing in the favela Vila do Pinheiro).

  • 12 João Maia, Ana Lattanzi, “Territórios de criatividade”, Revista Famecos, n° 33, 2007, p. 73-78, 200 (...)

21Children do not usually leave the favelas of Maré, as many have their entire families scattered among the various settlements in that same place. Many of them rarely go anywhere else in the city outside the favelas. Thus, “[…] from the everyday experiences shared in space, individuals create symbols and meanings that contribute to forging their own sense of place”.12 When playing, children show their ability to know the place well and use it in their games. The spatiality of the winding streets takes part in children’s games, taking children out of the privacy of their homes to mix up with adults in their street activities as they play. During a game of hide and seek, those who know the details of the space will choose clothes that facilitate their camouflage. This makes it difficult finding someone else in their hiding place. They also learn ways of dealing with problems that are part of the territory. One of these relates to the materiality of the favela territory, distinct from that of other places of the city. For instance, instead of toys, they touch and hear lethal weapons, they see bullets scattered across the ground, and they share scenes of injuries and deaths. So, again, their material relationships bear on what can lead to personal injury and death, and not what can entail pleasure or fantasy. In the example, the child shows familiarity with the materiality that constitutes his daily route around and, eventually, how he sees his life and possibilities:

[...] There are a lot of bullets on the street thrown on the ground, I throw everything in the ditch! The bullet is light, only skull bullet is not, it’s heavy! The rifle, pistol and machine gun are light and the helicopter is thin and light. (7-year-old boy, residing in the Salsa e Merengue favela).

22As they freely circulate in many parts of this territory, children talk about what bothers them and what makes them sad, and the issues are not always related to the shootings, bullets and deaths, but also relates to the precarious conditions of this territory with regards to safeguarding what they see as a good life”, as it can be seen in the narratives below:

[...] in the big pool (piscinão de Ramos) there are people who poop, pee, throw garbage, and it’s horrible! (5-year-old boy, residing the favela de Nova Holanda).

[...] a lot of noise in the favela is bad! I don’t like hearing gunshots and disturbed people screaming! (5-year-old boy, residing in the favela de Nova Maré).

[...] I’m drawing the son who is trying to sleep, but the music is too loud! Our house is on Rua Bela. There on Teixeira every Saturday there’s a dance party, you can hear gunshots from home and it’s very annoying! (7-year-old girl, residing in the favela of Nova Holanda).

  • 13 Rita de Cassia Marchi, Manuel Jacinto Sarmento, “Infância, Normatividade e Direitos das Crianças: t (...)

23All the observations above make us reflect on children’s demands to enjoy spaces that are not overcrowded, where it seems impossible not to be disturbed and overwhelmed by what others feel entitled to do without taking others into consideration. They also complain about the inequalities imposed on them by living in favelas, such as the dirt, the running gutters all around, the absence of playgrounds. Even so, as they move freely through the streets, they acquire essential wisdom for survival. This positions them far from the normalized ideal of being a child13. However, it seems to us that the complex and contradictory conditions that determine their ways of being a child remain invisible. When these are made explicit, they are not understood in their articulation with the conditions of the territory and its specificities. For example, the violent situations they experience are seldom addressed in the schools they go to. This becomes either a taboo or something that becomes naturalized and trivial. This means that adult-child relationships in the school social practices are underpinned by a normative ethos based on default middle-class, white and well-off people’s values, culture and modes of living. Teachers, who rarely live in the same territories as their pupils, are unaware of how the particularities of the favela territory impinge, shape and constitute students’ motivations, ideals, beliefs and dispositions, many times at odds with what teachers are likely to expect assuming another kind of student.

24Considering the wide repertoire of knowledge that playful practices allow children, we have observed how their corporeality is expansive and light. Since they were little, they have been carried by other children, so that their bodies have had to become firm to avoid possible falls and injuries. Children soon learn to harden the body through the forms of care and education they receive in the interactions with those who take care of them, including and especially older children. In this way, we can say that in the favelas of Maré – children’s knowledge includes their bodily assets and their corporeal expertise. Their knowledge about the world includes both their corporeality and their being part of a group.

Illustration 4: Children climbing a wall in the square known as Do 18 © A. Rezende de Souza.

25It is possible to observe dexterity, balance and rhythm in many children. Many like to dance, jump, do somersaults, and do cartwheels and splits. This demonstrates that they have a body control that requires training, ample space and self-discipline. Generally, although they don’t always have classes for this, they perform the movements quite perfectly. It is possible that the spatiality of the streets and the free time to manage their activities by themselves favor these skills. In their use of time they like outdoor activities, such as dancing, riding a bicycle, playing soccer, running, climbing trees, jumping over obstacles, and many others. Free circulation in the streets facilitates corporeal abilities. On the other hand, their integration in the local mobility, together with adults, requires dexterity and balance from them very early on. For example, scenes of motorcycles going around with families of four or five people, with more than one small child on the back, are common. This demands muscle strength and balance from the children in order not to fall, including babies being taken on motorcycles with just one arm, while the other adult arm drives the vehicle.

Peer Care: the intensity of bonds between children

  • 14 J. Siqueira de Lara, Crianças que cuidam, op. cit.

26It is common to observe that older children take on the role of caregivers for younger children. This is something that is very frequent and common in the day-to-day management of families in Maré, as also shown in the literature of the Global South14. The responsibility of taking care of children is not an activity restricted to adults, but it includes children, a cultural norm that is passed on from one generation to another. This fact makes it possible to frequently observe small groups of children of different ages (many on the laps) going around alone in the streets, whether day or night. Even though boys do eventually participate in this type of care for younger children, we observe that girls are more demanded, reproducing here a gendered division of labor concerning care. In this sense, we can think that the gender and the place that the child occupies in the family will interfere in the way she will be educated. Privileges and punishments will be different depending on the gender, age of the child and the number of brothers or sisters she has, older or younger than her, as evidenced from the narrative below:

[...] I don’t really like having a brother because we can’t play the way we want. If I run and my brother chases me, he will fall and our mother will punish us or we will be beaten. And there are many people who are beaten because they do a lot of stupid things, that’s why I don’t like being a big sister. I even take care of my older sister because she is very clumsy. (9-year-old girl, residing in the favela de Salsa e Merengue).

27Often, children held responsible for minors are also held liable for their actions, and penalized for their “silliness,” as if they had been the co-authors of these gestures. In other situations, older children lose opportunities to play if there is no possibility of bringing their little brother as well. Older children seem to be more serious, perhaps due to the attribution of responsibilities. Their forms of affection/care are sometimes ruder, but this also reveals a certain tiredness or dissatisfaction on the part of the caregiver to take up this role. Sometimes she is also in need of care. In any case, the form of care bestowed by older children to younger children seems to indicate the existence of a childhood different from others, with other responsibilities. This shows that mothering roles are rehearsed early by many children and young people of Maré. These possibilities of collective coexistence, with responsibilities towards siblings, create a rich complicity of strategies built by children that increase their imagination in search for ways to better spend their time and have fun. At the same time, they take care of each other and strengthen their bonds.

Illustrations 5: Friends in public space © A. Rezende de Souza.

Final Considerations

28In this paper we have sought to map the complex and contradictory territory of the favela, with its overriding condition of violence, and its impact on the lives of children and their families. Notwithstanding the negativity of this scenario, we have argued that rather than focusing exclusively on the violence that children suffer, but also internalize and act out in different ways, we should discuss how children manage to survive in such territories, or better, how children manage to construct solidarity bonds, friendships, find joy and pleasure in being and learning together as well as caring for each other.

  • 15 Liz Bondi, Joyce Davidson, Mick Smith, Introduction: geography’s emotional turn, in : J. Davidson (...)

29These many geographies of relationality and affects15 should be looked for as we investigate children’s lives in the set of favelas in Maré. There, children play and have fun in public spaces, almost exclusively in the company of other children. In this territory, a very strong group kinship, or being part of the same neighborhood, creates bonds of solidarity and reciprocity that allow children to move about and feel safe. Free circulation allows them to create games with a certain autonomy and freedom. This helps them to make decisions in face of unexpected challenges that arise. Younger children have the opportunity to experience these moments because they are cared for and protected by older children of their families or of the neighborhood.

30Children’s joy at being together invites us to reflect on the importance of community ties, because even in the face of so many adversities, their opinions about living in Maré are that “[...] it’s still nice to live here!

  • 16 Para Uglione, A rua como caminho religações no campo da infância”, op. cit., p. 166.

31In children’s narratives, it is evident how the playful coexistence among them, even rife with conflicts and aggressiveness, strengthens them and becomes essential for their subjective constitution. This aspect brings them closer to what we normally associate with childhood as the moment of being playful and happy”. On the streets, children identify noises (screams, loud music, noisy cars, and motorcycles, honking trucks), about which they complain. These observations show the knowledge they acquire as they move around the territory. In this regard, the children of Maré make explicit the claim that the streets are public spaces that children must have access to for widening their experiences, “[...] showing other ways of being a child through a perspective displaced from the child-in-the-family or the child-in-the-institution”.16

  • 17 Priscillia Alderson, Childhoods Real and Imagined, London, Routledge, 2013.

32By following the groups of children, many forms of care were identified, forms that are far from the common logic of care that is usually centered mainly on adults, who assume responsibility and control over their children’s bodies. Even considering problematical the fact that children assume so many responsibilities of caring for others, our records show, however, how important it is for children (younger and older) to live among peers with a certain distance from adults so that they can find solutions for unexpected problems, based on their ways of seeing and being in the world, a fact that has also been noted by other researchers17 as well.

33We have remarked the deleterious and serious effects of violence – of the police, of armed traffic dealers, but also of neighbors – on children’s lives. Parents seem at a loss as to how to cope with it and children have to shift for themselves, many a times. This underscores the relevance of specific public policies for children living in specific territories, such as that of the favelas of Maré. These should be based on knowledge of the territory and its people. In this sense, it is essential to think of public policies that guarantee spaces for participation and formation of the new generations, building a trajectory of citizenship from the early years of life. This makes children possible vehicles of social transformation together with their families and communities, and produces effects on society in general.

34To analyze the “favela-city” and its children becomes of paramount importance. It tells the story behind the numbers of children’s deaths shot by “stray bullets,” which, for many, are nothing more than cold statistics of violence in some part of the city. Narrating the lives of children in the favelas is both researching the favela form of the city, but, also, bringing up other visions of what constitutes childhood informed by a political vision of the territory and its subjects.

Haut de page


1 Andrea Szulc, “La antropología frente a los niños: De la omisión a las culturas infantiles”, VII Congreso Argentino de antropologia social, 25th-28th May 2004, Villa Giardino, Córdoba, National University of Córdoba ; Irene Rizzini, Malcolm Bush,Editorial: Globalization and children, Childhood [online], vol. 9, n° 4, 2002, p. 371-374, DOI :; Lucia Rabello de Castro (dir.), Infâncias do Sul Global: experiências, teoria e pesquisa desde a Argentina e Brasil, Salvador, Edufba, 2021.

2 Tatek Abebe and Yaw Ofosu-Kusi, “Beyond pluralizing African childhoods: Introduction”, Childhood [online], vol. 23, n° 3, 2016, p. 303–316, DOI :  ; Mike Kesby, Fungi Gwansura-Ottemoller and Monica Chizororo, “Theorising other, ‘other childhoods’ : Issues emerging from work on HIV in urban and rural Zimbabwe”, Children’s Geographies, vol. 4, n° 2, 2006, p. 185–202.

3 Julia Oliveira Moraes, “A urgência do letramento racial e do antirracismo na educação brasileira”, Desidades, n° 34, p. 36-52, 2022, DOI :

4 Amber Murrey, “Slow dissent and the emotional geographies of resistance”, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 37, n° 2, 2016, p. 224-248.

5 S. Rosendo, “As Sonoridades das Favelas: dos Agudos e Graves a Ausência de Som de Um Território Nada Silencioso, Ensaios [online], vol. 8, 2015, p. 42-58, URL :

6 Glauci Coelho, Cristiane Rose Duarte, Vera M. R. de Vasconcellos, “A criança e o espaço vividofavela: a complexidade do espaço nas interações da infância”, Revista Oculum Ensaios, n° 6, 2006, p. 74-87, URL :

7 Para Uglione, A rua como caminho religações no campo da infância”, in: Lucia Rabello de Castro (ed.), Infâncias do sul global: experiências, pesquisa e teoria desde a Argentina e o Brasil, Salvador, EDUFBA, 2021.

8 Yasmin Ramos Peregrino, Ana Laura Rosas Brito, José Augusto Ribeiro Silveira, “O espaço livre público informal como lócus da oportunidade e da integração socioespacial da cidade: o caso da favela Beira Molhada, em João Pessoa”, Revista Brasileira de Gestão Urbana [online], vol. 9, n° 3, 2017, p. 456-473, URL : ; Mike Davis, Planeta Favela, São Paulo, Boitempo, 2006 ; Livio Maschio Fioravanti, “Reflexões sobre o ‘direito à cidade’ em Henri Lefebvre: obstáculos e superações”, Revista Movimentos Sociais e Dinâmicas Espaciais, vol. 2, n° 2, 2013, p. 173-184, URL :

9 This was where the children lived on the occasion of the doctoral study of the first author (Souza, 2020).

10 Redes da Maré is a civil society institution that produces knowledge, projects and actions, through five structural work axes, in search of quality of life and guarantee of rights for more than 140,000 residents of the 16 slums of Maré.

11 Juliana Siqueira de Lara, Crianças que cuidam: infância e cuidado no encontro com o outro, PhD thesis in Psychology, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro ; Gina Porter, Kate Hampshire, Albert Abane et al., “Where dogs, ghosts and lions roam: learning from mobile ethnographies on the journey from school”, Children’s Geographies, vol. 8, n° 2, 2010, p. 91-105 ; Jane Hunleth, “Beyond on or with: Questioning power dynamics and knowledge production in ‘child-oriented’ research methodology”, Childhood, vol. 18, n° 10, 2011, p. 81-93.

12 João Maia, Ana Lattanzi, “Territórios de criatividade”, Revista Famecos, n° 33, 2007, p. 73-78, 2007.

13 Rita de Cassia Marchi, Manuel Jacinto Sarmento, “Infância, Normatividade e Direitos das Crianças: transições contemporâneas”, Educação & Sociedade, vol. 38, nº 141, 2017, p. 951-967.

14 J. Siqueira de Lara, Crianças que cuidam, op. cit.

15 Liz Bondi, Joyce Davidson, Mick Smith, Introduction: geography’s emotional turn, in : J. Davidson, L. Bondi & M. Smith (dir.), Emotional Geographies, London, Routledge, 2007, p. 1-16.

16 Para Uglione, A rua como caminho religações no campo da infância”, op. cit., p. 166.

17 Priscillia Alderson, Childhoods Real and Imagined, London, Routledge, 2013.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
Légende Illustration 1 and 2: Children playing in the street alone or with adults © Arthur Vianna.
Fichier image/jpeg, 261k
Légende Illustration 3: Dispute games © Arthur Vianna.
Fichier image/jpeg, 153k
Légende Illustration 4: Children climbing a wall in the square known as “Do 18” © A. Rezende de Souza.
Fichier image/jpeg, 163k
Légende Illustrations 5: Friends in public space © A. Rezende de Souza.
Fichier image/jpeg, 183k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Adelaide Rezende de Souza et Lucia Rabello de Castro, « The Favela (Slum) As A City – Children Growing Up In Territories Of Public (In)Security »Strenæ [En ligne], 23 | 2023, mis en ligne le 03 février 2024, consulté le 13 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Adelaide Rezende de Souza

Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Lucia Rabello de Castro

Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search