Children forage through polluted river in the northeast to gather cans; lawsuit filed against the city

Photos of children foraging in polluted water for cans in the northeast were captured by a photographer
Photos of children foraging in polluted water for cans in the northeast were captured by a photographer

Note from BW of Brazil: So how is it that Brazil deals with its poor citizens? And more, how does it deal with its poor, black citizens? This is the question that came to the fore once again a few days ago as images of three black boys foraging in disgusting, polluted water in the search for recyclable cans were broadcast on one the country’s major television networks. As you read the story and look at the shocking photos, there are several things to keep in mind here. 1) While Brazil’s economic explosion catapulted the nation into the 6th largest economy in the world, this glosses over the country’s huge social inequalities that led social scientists to nickname the country “Belindia”, a mixture of Belgium and India. 2) Brazil long defined itself as a “racial democracy” and although it is true that there are poor white Brazilians, 70% of the poor are Afro-Brazilian. 3) While the explosion of the black middle class was the topic of much hype in the past few years, there has actually been a 15% increase in the number of black Brazilians living in extreme poverty. 4) In a land of vast wealth, the monthly minimum salary remains R$678, which is worth about US$296 (1). 5) The article, in a typically Brazilian fashion, mentions nothing about the race of the boys in the photo although in the social imagination of Brazilians, blackness is associated with poverty. While there is also white poverty, it is seen and treated differently by the public. 6) The Brazilian economic miracle was rewarded with the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics but the images in today’s article will surely not be the images televised throughout the world. 7) It highlights the nearly 4 million children and adolescents aged 5-17 working in Brazil today and 8) While these children risk their lives in toxic water for cans worth a few reais, 124 men have wealth equal to 12% of the country’s entire PIB (or GDP). These are just a few of the facts not covered in the article below. Besides the photos, check out a short film entitled “Children, Just Children” by Jornal do Commercio that films moments in the lives of the children featured in the photos. Read on…

Children dive into polluted river in Recife to get cans; MP files a suit against the city

Story moved the capital district and neighbors to donate food and clothing

courtesy of R7, all photos by Diego Nigro/JC Imagens/Estadão Conteúdo

According to the Ministério Público do Trabalho (MP or MPT or Public Ministry of Labor), a list of 13 calls to the city were made to take action to end child labor in the city. Among the recommendations, the city government has 120 days to determine how many and the conditions in which minors are working. From this, it will be given 30 days to enter them in social programs. The MP evaluated that the city failed to solve the problem.

The three boys are aged 9-12
The three boys are aged 9-12

The reality of children who collect cans for recycling in the Arruda channel, north (of the capital city of) Recife, Pernambuco (in the northeast), became the target of a civil suit filed by the Ministry of Labor against the capital city. The sad routine of three children living in garbage was captured ​​by photographer Diego Nigro, of the Jornal do Commercio.


According to the profile of Brazilian (recyclable) collectors prepared by the IPEA ((Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada or Institute of Applied Economic Research), based on the 2010 Census (by the IBGE), 3.6 % of 20,166 people in Pernambuco that work in recycling are between 10 and 17 years of age. There are officially 726 children and adolescents in the state who make their living as scavengers.


The boys Paulo Henrique Félix da Silveira, 9, Tauã Manoel da Silva Alves, 10, and Geivson Félix de Oliveira, 12, dove into the water to find and sell cans in a recycling shed. The money, at the maximum R$10 per day, supplements the family income. The mother is a maid and said she feared that the boys would catch diseases, but that she has no way to refuse the help of the children, six in total. The boys had wounds over their bodies and skin blemishes.


The city reported that, in the specific case of the Arruda channel, there is already an urbanization project in progress at the site that includes a kind of trash sorting which could benefit families that survive on recycling. The agency also reported that more than ten agents were sent to work in the cleaning of the channel on Monday, (November 4).

2Source: R7, Mundo Estranho




“Children, Just Children”


1. According to a 2012 study, minimum salary in Brazil ranked somewhere between the highest and lowest in the world but much closer to the lowest. At the time of the article, China paid the highest minimum monthly wage of the ten lowest paying countries at about US$173 per month. At the time, the value of Brazil’s minimum salary was equal to US$305 per month. The lowest paying country of the top 10 highest minimum salaries in the world was South Korea’s US$797 per month. The highest minimum wage in the world was that of Australia which paid its workers US$2,540 per month. Source: Mundo Estranho, Novembro 2012.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. the note that you have at the beginning of this article is the main reason why i did not choose brazil when i left [hopefully this time for good] the united states.

    latin america was just out. just not even an option.

    [the other main reason, btw, were the pathogenic mosquitoes; funnily enough, i got dengue the last time i was in brazil three years ago]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.