Morro-Asfalto

The Marvellous City (Cidade Maravilhosa) of Rio de Janeiro, as it was once characterised through the words of Aurora Miranda back in 1956, is in truth a set of multiple and contradictory layers. The pinnacle point is reached in the contrast between the favelas and ocean-front apartments of Ipanema and Copacabana, a scene locally described as the dichotomy morro-asfalto, an expression pointing to the divisions and lines of segregation that give shape to the city. 

To the visiting tourist the darkest sides of the city are seen in glimpses. From the beaches of Ipanema, to the strairs of Selaron and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio seems as if shaped from a dream. But in the shade of its hills locals draw a line on the asphalt, from which walls grow, separating the slums from the middle to upper class condominiums. Violence is real and it affects both sides of the border.

One of the most worrying expressions of the Morro-asfalto dichotomy is the increasing violence affecting the younger generations. Children in Rio are killing or being killed by drug gangs running the favelas. According to the report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), nearly four in every 1,000 Brazilian adolescents living in the country’s biggest cities are murdered before the age of nineteen. A significant factor in this violence is organised crime, which has much to gain from the social and economic marginalisation of youth, enabling them to recruit cheap, disposable labor, for ilegal and life threatening work.

According to some authors, the surge in youth crime can be seen as a product of Brazil's economic boom leading up to the olympics and soccer world cup. The youth is bombarded with the message that they have to consume, no matter the cost. In poorer areas, kids grow up on the streets from an early age and under fire from both sides of the city, either recruited for criminal activities or stigmatised by police forces that generalize and treat youths as criminals. Adding the crack epidemic that has been charging over the country and it creates a lethal mix.

Measures set in place by UNODC are now using sports as a means to prevent crime, violence and drug use among youth, including opportunities to join forces promoting sports for youth development and crime prevention. But efforts seam scarce when compared with violence and social demographics.