Pope condemns Brazil's treatment of street children, advocates education

October 21, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

SALVADOR, Brazil -- Pope John Paul II gave Brazilians a stern lecture yesterday on "the sad situation" of millions of neglected and abandoned children, one of this country's most serious social problems.

On the last full day of a 10-day Brazilian tour, the pope spoke in a plaza filled with boys and girls who clapped and cheered, squirmed and fidgeted, sang and waved small flags of white and yellow, the Vatican colors.

In his speech, the pope laid down a series of commandments against practices and conditions, including death-squad murders, that afflict alarming numbers of Brazilian children.

"There cannot and must not be abandoned children," he said.

"Nor homeless children. Nor street children.

"There cannot and must not be children used by adults for immorality, for drug trafficking, for petty and major infractions, for the practice of vice.

"There cannot and must not be children crowded into detention centers and correction houses, where they are not able to receive a true education.

"There cannot and must not be -- it is the pope who asks and demands in the name of God and His son, who also was a child -- there cannot and must not be murdered children, eliminated under the pretext of crime-prevention, marked to die."

Street children struggle to survive in many Latin American countries, but nowhere are they more numerous than in Brazil, where weak social agencies are overwhelmed by poverty and growth in the population of 150 million.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, about 7 million children live in neglect on Brazilian streets.

Death squads, which often include policemen and security guards working for retail merchants, have killed hundreds of children and teen-agers suspected of robbery and other crimes in recent years, human rights groups report.

The pope commended President Fernando Collor de Mello for creating a Ministry of the Child, and praised the Congress for enacting a statute for the protection of minors.

He also said that the Roman Catholic Church is helping abandoned minors with special pastorates for children in many dioceses, and he announced that he was contributing $400,000, which he received recently as a prize from an Italian foundation.

The pope also called on all adults to "guarantee some conditions for reversing the sad situation of millions of marginalized Brazilian children." One condition, he said, is education for children and mothers, and another is responsible parenthood.

But he emphasized the church's rejection of artificial birth-control methods, abortion and sterilization.

Family planning "by natural methods contributes to the education and growth of couples, especially in the neediest environments," he said.

The pope is scheduled to leave today for Rome.

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