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Rio's street kids pose AIDS education problem

December 1, 1995
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EST (0130 GMT)

From Correspondent Marina Mirabella

Rio's street kids

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- No matter where you go in Rio, you see them. Children of all ages, living in the streets. Many are abandoned by their parents; many, like 8-year-old Leonardo, are runaways.

"I can't stay at home," he said. "My father beats me."

boy at car

On the streets, these children do whatever it takes to survive.

"Sometimes they can find small jobs to do, like shining shoes or cleaning cars," said social worker Ana Filgueiras. "But when they get older, there are fewer alternatives to get money."

She said they often turn to prostitution. And that is a deadly alternative. (182K AIFF sound or 182K WAV sound)

AIDS is spreading quickly among Brazil's street children. Many become infected when they have sex with strangers, and pass on the disease when they have sex with their friends.

Doctors say more than 2,000 street children in Rio alone now have HIV. Before they became sick, most of them knew nothing about the disease.

"When you're on the streets, you'll do anything that feels good," said 15-year-old Ajilson. "There's lots of sex, but nobody tells you about this horrible disease."

Ajilson has full-blown AIDS, but he doesn't know where or when he was infected.

cartoon

Homeless kids don't watch television. They don't read the newspapers, and they're reluctant to go to drop-in centers that offer AIDS education. So social workers in Rio have taken a different approach.

Video screens are used in the city center to draw dozens of curious street children. The video they see is a 22-minute piece on AIDS and AIDS prevention. The colorful cartoon, produced by Streetkids International and used throughout Latin America, manages to keep their attention.

boys

"It's a step in the right direction," said Dr. Maria Inez, who works with homeless children. "But information alone may not be enough."

Other education programs have failed because street children, confronted with violence and abuse in their daily lives, don't fear death the way others do. Social workers say the best way to control the spread of AIDS among homeless children is to get them off the street.

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