Drug use among street children in southern Brazil.Drug Alcohol Depend. 1996 Dec 02; 43(1-2):57-62.DA
We studied the self-reported activities engaged in by children found wandering on the streets of Porto Alegre, Brazil, aiming to describe their drug abuse habits and practice of thefts or mendicancy. One hundred-and-five youngsters, 6-18 years old, were interviewed in the streets. Although the external appearance of the interviewed children lacked cues as to their life-style differences, three diverse life-style characteristics were depicted among them. Almost 25% of the children lived with their families and went to school (FAMSCH) and 46% lived with their families but didn't go to school (FAM). The other 29% spent all day long and slept in the streets (STREET). The most frequently used drug for the total group of children was tobacco, followed by alcohol, with a much higher prevalence of use of both alcohol and tobacco among children from the STREET subgroup. Alcohol was used by more than 25% of the STREET children and tobacco by 58% of the children from this subgroup, in a regular (almost daily) basis. Less than 12% of the FAMSCH children used illicit drugs. Inhalants were the preferred drugs for illicit drug experimental use. Only 4% of the children attending school sniffed solvents in a regular basis. Regular abuse of inhalants was reported much more frequently by the STREET subgroup of children, reaching a prevalence of 40%. Self-report of marijuana smoking was described to be regular by 4% of the FAMSCH children and 26% by the STREET children. A significantly higher number of the children who lived with their families in comparison to the STREET children described work activities (selling food, washing cars or polishing shoes) while out in the streets. On the other hand the practice of thefts was self-reported mainly by the children from the STREET group and only by the ones who used illicit drugs. Children who lived with their families reported less mendicancy and thefts than STREET children. These results show that very poor children might spend many hours of the day by themselves in the streets of a big city accompanied by children who are never under adult supervision. In spite of being alone for some hours a day and making friends with others who might use drugs, having a family and regularly attending school decreases the risk of delinquent acts and drug use.