By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With summer season just around the corner and forecasts of hundreds of thousands of tourists flooding into Rio de Janeiro, city officials are preparing public policies geared towards homeless or low-income youths with the hopes of decreasing mass robberies known locally as “arrastões” (big drags), registered in the past at some of the city’s most famous beaches.
The first integrated center to help process these youngsters opened on Monday, November 17th in the Zona Sul (South Zone) neighborhood of Laranjeiras with the objective of steering these youths away from crime and illegal activities.
“We are all in this together,” said Rio’s vice-mayor, Adilson Pires, who heads the Secretaria Municipal de Desenvolvimento Social – SMDS (City’s Social Development Secretary) after a meeting with representatives of several agencies which work with the protection and rights of children and adolescents in the city.
The center will work with professionals from the child welfare department and human rights agencies to process the youth, find his family, and if possible return him to his municipality. The SMDS also has plans expand access to cultural and sporting activities with the objective of reducing the idle time of these youths.
“This is the start of combined actions which are here to stay,” says Allan Borges coordinator for integration and special projects at the “From now on we will create an operational protocol, mapping the main social demands of these youngsters with individualized services,” he adds. According to officials a second youth center will be opened in the center of the city in the near future.
According to Rio’s Instituto de Segurança Publica – ISP (Public Security Institute) 871 youths were arrested by police in September of 2014. The ISP registered 13,979 thefts and robberies during the same month, many which occurred on the beaches or boardwalks along Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema.
Mass thefts by youth groups at Rio’s beaches are not completely rare occurrences and the incidents have even led the U.S. Consulate in Rio to issue a travel warning in November of 2013 to U.S. citizens.