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How safe do Brazilian kids feel?

A new mobile app tested in 14 cities is generating some surprising answers

Robert Muggah, Renata Giannini, and Natalie Hanna*

Violence against children is a global problem. Homicides alone claims the lives of close to 100,000 children a year. To put the scale of the impact in perspective, the Ebola virus killed 11,315 people in almost two years. About 1 in 4 of all child-related homicides occurs in Latin America. Boys are 6 times more likely to be a victim than girls (19 per 100,000 compared to 3 per 100,000).

While sadly widespread, violence is also unevenly concentrated. Violence – not accidents or disease – is the leading cause of death for children and adolescents aged 10-19 in Brazil. More than11,000 young people were killed last year in Brazil. The country only trails Nigeria in the murder of young people, and is ahead of India, Congo, Mexico, Pakistan, Colombia, Venezuela and the U.S.

Of course lethal violence is just the tip of the iceberg. There is also physical and psychological abuse. About one quarter of all girls aged 15-19 are victims of some form of physical violence, whether unwanted touching or sexual violence. And there are many others forms of abuse and victimisation that go unrecorded.

We are learning how violence ravages families and communities, leaving physical and psychological scars and trauma in its wake. In countries such as Brazil, epidemic levels of violence are widely tolerated and often naturalised. Generations of families have been affected, with many somehow believing that it is “normal”.

In our last blog post, we discussed some of these impacts, but also how new technologies are helping document where kids are most at risk. We introduced a new digital platform – the Child Security Index (CSI)– originally designed to fill a gap in our knowledge. In this post, we will drill down on some of the preliminary findings from ongoing studies using the CSI in over a dozen cities spread across Brazil.

Before turning to these findings, a word about how the CSI works. We developed the CSI – a survey and dashboard that runs on smart phones – to better understand how children perceive their security environment at home, in schools and in public spaces. The platform consists of 30 multiple choice questions vetted by some of the world’s top child protection experts.

Our hope is that the CSI can contribute to the growing edifice of knowledge on violence against children. Some national census partly captures the objective experience of violence against children, albeit with varying degrees of confidence. Very few studies shed light on the ways in which young people themselves experience fear and anxiety. Their voices are often excluded.

Working with our partners at World Vision International, Google Brasil, Oi Futuro and Bernard van Leer Foundation, we’ve tested the CSI in a wide range of settings. Cities where the CSI was fielded include Dix-Sept Rosado and Mossoró (RN); Catolé do Rocha (PB), Fortaleza (CE), Recife (PE) and Manacapuru (AM); and Canapi, Inhapi and Maceió (AL), Salvador (BA), Itinga (MG), Rio de Janeiro and Nova Iguaçu (RJ), and São Paulo (SP).

Our teams interviewed a total of 3,500 children and care-givers in 14 cities. A number of striking findings emerged. Perhaps the most surprising was that just a tiny proportion of child respondents – around 1% – describe their surroundings as “very dangerous”. This is surprising in a country where at least 80% of the population believes that they could be a victim of homicide.

We think the findings of this study will be of interest to a wider range of policy makers, practitioners, activists and lay people in Brazil and outside. So what kinds of insights does the CSI reveal in the Brazilian context?

  • First, the older the child, the more likely they report a higher sense of insecurity. Teens are more anxious than young children.
  • Second, there is not a statistically significant difference between sexes on how young children perceive insecurity, but this changes as they get older.
  • Third, and not surprisingly, children and adolescents report feeling safest in their homes. At least 40% of respondents reported feeling unsafe in their schools and communities.
  • Fourth, despite this, there is a comparatively high rate of reported victimisation in homes: 25% reported some form of physical abuse and 63% reported corporal punishment when they did something wrong.
  • Fifth, there is comparatively high sense of insecurity in schools – 30% reported bullying or some form of physical or verbal violence, 40% reported feeling insecure, 40% reported cancellation of school because of shooting/incident in the street and 80% reported fights.
  • Sixth, in communities, 40% of respondents reported feeling some kind of insecurity. Another 58% reported sometimes or always being afraid of cars in the street and just 56% believe that children have a decent chance of having a good life.
  • Seventh, when asked who makes them always feel safe, 89% reported their family, 40% reported police, 34% reported neighbors and 7% reported people involved in prohibited/illegal activities.
  • Eighth, despite their apparent vulnerability, children appear to be optimistic about their future, though hope dissipates with age. For example, 96% of child respondents in Rio de Janeiro reported they believe they will have a good future. That drops to 82% when they become teenagers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, attitudes toward the police vary. This is not surprising given the poor reputation of law enforcement in Brazil. Levels of trust in police have decreased among older respondents. In Rio de Janeiro, around a quarter of respondents do not feel protected by the police. Among mothers, the rate increased to 41%. Just 18% of girl respondents said they felt protected by police in contrast to 35% of boys in São Paulo.

To coincide with the Olympics and highlight some of these issues, the Igarapé Institute and its partners launched a social media campaign in August and September 2016. Our goal was to make violence against children more visible and enable tech-driven solutions to protect children. We’ve made some headway – more than 1 million people have been reached with our material and 10 countries were actively engaged across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia.

Starting in 2017, the CSI will start being tested outside of Brazil, including North America, Central America and the Caribbean. We’ll also continue supporting our allies in Brazil, including Luta Pela Paz, Quebrando o Tabu, Just Real Moms, RISO- Resgate da Infância Social, Know Violence in Childhood, Instituto Bola pra Frente, World Vision International, Instituto da Criança, Criança Pequena em Foco, Terre des Hommes, Children Win, Bernard van Leer, Global Campaign for Violence Prevention and Plug ConectandoVidas. We look forward to bringing more partners on board in the coming year.

For more information on the CSI, visit: For access to the latest results of a 12-city assessment, go to:

*Robert Muggah is the Research Director of the Igarapé Institute and the SecDev Foundation. He also co-chairs one of the learning groups at Know Violence in Childhood. Rob was recently appointed to serve as an expert on a UN Security Council-mandated review of the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda. At Igarapé Institute, Renata Giannini is senior researcher while Natalie Hanna is a researcher. Both Renata and Natalie conducted research related to the CSI.


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