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Rio’s Children, caught between football, drugs and police brutality

In Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, there are vast slum areas known as favelas, they’re often described as “cities within a city”. Built by the poorest members of society, they’re made out of scrap, lack proper infrastructure and have their own rules. Drug gangs wield the most influence in favelas; the disadvantaged youth here are easy targets for recruitment to the cartels.

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To combat favela crime, the authorities established a special military police Pacifying Unit. The locals are now held hostage by the continuing war between gangsters and government forces, with bullets flying through family homes and children frequently caught in the crossfire. The police have been accused of brutality and a lack of accountability, which led to a decline in trust among the local population. While the pacification of favelas has made some communities safer, others remain highly dangerous to live and are extremely hostile to strangers.

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To keep local children away from the violence and provide an alternative to joining criminal gangs, various clubs have been set up; some with police backing. A judo club gives the kids much needed relief. Its students are inspired by the success of Rafaela Silva, a judo gold medallist who grew up in a Rio favelas known as the “City of God”. Her rise to international sports fame gave hope to many favela children that following their dreams and working hard might help them build a better future.  

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