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The house, the street, global society: Latin American families and childhood in the twenty-first century.

Since the colonial period (1492 to approximately 1826), children have constituted a large proportion of the population of Latin America, with approximately thirty to fifty percent under age twenty in the eighteenth century. Public health campaigns in the early twentieth century improved child survival rates and resulted in the substantial expansion of the proportion under age twenty by the 1960s. While birthrates have declined since the 1980's the proportion of youth in Latin America continues to exceed fifty percent (1). It is not surprising that children and adolescents are vital to the work force today, nor that education is a daunting public burden all over Latin America.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the fact that the family in Latin America is considered to be of extreme importance historically and in the present, children and childhood in Latin America have been notably absent from the literature. One possible explanation for the neglect of childhood as a topic by Latin American historians is that colonial Spanish and Portuguese law codes determined that the care and nurturing of children were private functions, and fell into the corporate sphere of the family. As a result, children that appear in historical documents were seldom members of "legitimate" families; most often they were children of the popular classes. Thus, scholars have normally discussed abandoned and orphaned children, children enlisted in military service, children thrust into institutionalized workshops as "apprentices" or caught up in the criminal justice system. Other topics include prescriptive ideas about children's upbringing, and discussions of laws relating to children. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century scholars, legislators and politicians were also preoccupied by the levels of infant and child mortality, child labor, juvenile delinquency, and issues related to public education.

From a historical and legal perspective, the family in Latin America is represented consistently as the fundamental unit of society, and as an institution that is essentially patriarchal, based on a system of monogamous marriage, and focused on reproduction. This vision is retained from the sixteenth to the twentieth century in spite of the remarkable diversity in family and household forms that existed in Latin America over time. The family as constructed through law can be seen as the codification of an elite world vision, concerned with the legality of family ties, with the legal definition of marital and paternal power, the legitimacy of offspring, and the regulation of family wealth.

The remarkable fact is that the majority of children born in Latin America since 1492 were not born in such families. Before the twentieth century families formed through legal marriage in Latin America had not been the norm. A comparison with European societies makes this very clear. European illegitimacy rates ranged from a low of one to two percent in seventeenth-century England to a high of five to nine percent in nineteenth-century France. In Latin America, on the other hand, out-of-wedlock births accounted for between 30 and 60 percent of births in most countries between the sixteenth and the end of the nineteenth centuries. (2) Thus most children have been defined as in some sense marginal, and in need of social control by some institution.

In a classic work on world patterns in kinship W. J. Goode argued that "... wherever the economic system expands through industrialization, family patterns change. Extended kinship ties weaken, lineage patterns dissolve, and a trend towards some form of the conjugal system generally begins to appear--that is, the nuclear family becomes a more independent kinship unit." (3) Goode referred to the "conjugal system" both as an ideal--something people regard as appropriate and right--as well as a reality, something that is empirically observed. This vision of weakening kinship with global expansion has been contested by Latin American scholars from the humanities to the social sciences. In the case of Latin America it seems clear that kinship continues to be a central mode of social interaction and individual adaptation to factors of modern life that might otherwise lead to alienation.

In this paper I will argue that the family as an institution in Latin America has always been vital. Aggregate statistical analysis fails to measure the adaptive power of the family and kinship to globalization, thus putting many conclusions based on such analysis in doubt for Latin America. Children in Latin America continue to utilize kinship and family relations in creative and adaptive ways even as they interact ever more strongly with the globalized economy. Globalization in Latin America also includes neoliberalism and free trade, which has exacerbated an already extremely unequal distribution of income. One important characteristic of that distribution is that kinship relations have increasingly become segregated within particular socio-economic groups rather than being distributed across these groups as was the case historically until the twentieth century.

What is the connection between globalization and childhood in Latin America? Globalization has produced a common vision of what the experience of childhood should be, and what children should do, a kind of global "morality." This vision generally suggests that children should be "protected" from harsh knowledge or experiences, should "play" and "go to school." International human rights groups have actively protested that children have the "right" to a certain experience of childhood, a vision created from the specific cultural experience of the US and Western Europe.

However, this "global notion" really constitutes an elite vision, and does not coincide with what the experience of childhood has been in Latin America, or what it can be in practical terms. Perhaps this vision has created a sense of childhood deprivation among Latin American children, the sense of a childhood which was never possible for most children. In Latin America family and kinship have served as the most important and sometimes the only institutions for social stability and political and social change. While the global notion of childhood also envisions the child as a member of an ideal nuclear family of four (father, mother, self plus one sibling), kinship in Latin America is malleable and adaptable to circumstances and change.

The dichotomy between the "public" and the "private" or the corporate view of the family as an autonomous political realm has been eloquently described by Roberto da Matta as the realms of "the house and the street." These realms describe the geography of honor and morality in Brazil and in Latin America. The house is associated with family, honor, order, marriage, safety, private power and cleanliness. The street symbolizes anarchy, vagrancy, disorder, danger, disgrace, illegitimacy and vulnerability to the vagaries of impersonal public authority. In general it can be said that an association with the street is a threat to family honor, the cornerstone of order in Brazilian law. The house is also especially associated with the honest or good woman and mother and the protection of children within the family (4). Global society and its incursions into the realm of private affairs thus intrinsically would seem to threaten the family. At the same time it can be argued that for many popular families in Latin America the family and kinship have also come to occupy the street, even as they grapple with the consequences of globalization.

It also seems important to distinguish the relationship of kinship to childhood and globalization from the history of "good mothering." (5) Shorter claimed that "Good mothering is an invention of modernization. In traditional society, mothers viewed the development and happiness of infants younger than two with indifference. In modern society, they place the welfare of their small children above all else." (6) There are serious problems with this interpretation, but more importantly, I consider it better not to engage the question of parental indifference to children in this paper. Nancy Scheper-Hughes book: Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil eloquently discusses the context of grinding poverty and government neglect of desperate social problems that explains attitudes taken by mothers in modern-day Brazil. (7) The question I wish to engage is the question of the continued importance or decline of the kinship system as an important basis for social relationships and creation of life opportunities for children in the context of increasingly globalized societies in modern Latin America. I am less interested in looking at sentiments than I am at the functionality of family and kinship for children.

As a historian I also want to point out that "globalization" is to some degree an expansion and acceleration of a process that has been going on world-wide since about the thirteenth century with the commercial revolution. However, the process which involves "growing interconnectedness in economic, cultural and political life" affects people in different parts of the world at different times.

1. The Family and Kinship in Latin America:

The centrality of the family and kinship to Latin American culture and society is generally recognized by scholars and non-scholars alike. Manuel Carlos and Lois Sellers in a classic article affirmed: "The importance of familial networks of nuclear and extended kin in providing support to the individual's adaptation to socio-economic and cultural environments, regardless of his community of residence or his class standing, has long been recognized. Perhaps the classic statement of this point of view was made by Gillin concerning the Latin American family: 'A man without a family of this sort (i.e. extensive and functioning as a unit) is almost helpless in Mestizo America'" (8) Sueann Caulfield, speaking of twentieth-century Brazil, argued that "For a great many contemporary religious authorities as well as political and professional elites, the relationship was simple ... the family [was] the basis of the nation." (9) Comment on the relationship of the elite family and elite family networks to political structure and control of economic resources in non-scholarly publications constituted an important political and literary theme in several Latin American countries from the time such publications began to appear. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries this preoccupation was best expressed by the enormous production of genealogies and family histories.

In religious and legal terms the Latin American family system was primarily based on European categories. Kinship was bilateral, with kin counted from both the maternal and paternal sides. It was also widely extended, with kinship recognized to the seventh or tenth degree. Ritual kinship (compadrio) has substantial importance both for recognition of reciprocal obligations and as a category that required church dispensation for marriage to take place. It could also be used to reinforce a kin relationship, or to formalize a patron-client relationship and was highly significant as a means of expanding the kindred on an interclass basis. (10)

The first major academic influence in Latin American family history was Gilberto Freyre's 1933 depiction of the large extended family with slaves and dependents situated on a self-sufficient sugar plantation in sixteenth-century Pernambuco, Brazil. This vivid portrait made it clear the Portuguese family was the dominant institution in Brazil for colonization, government, education, maintenance of order and economic investment. Freyre's emphasis on the childhood experiences of slave and free children on the plantation gained little attention from scholars until recently. (11) Freyre's discussion raised questions in areas pertinent for a history of childhood and globalization. Some of these are the areas of private vs. public power and implications of race for family relations. A parallel focus on kinship for indigenous families among anthropologists in the 1930s through 1950s resulted in community studies of traditional peasant villages in Latin America. (12) Several of these forecast a decline in kinship as a factor in social relations with the advance of modernization.

II. History of Childhood in Latin America:

The very definition of childhood in Latin America evolved over time through a continuous dialogue concerning the duties and responsibilities of parents and children toward each other, and the responsibilities of the State toward children. (13) In the colonial period the parent/child relationship was seen as an aspect of the corporate family, embedded in the patriarchal property rights of legally constituted families. At that time focus was on the parental obligations of early childhood up to age seven, the age of reason. The first period from birth to age three was designated infancy and distinguished by the child being sustained by human milk, either from the mother or a wet nurse. Children were generally left with their mothers during infancy if their fathers died, because of the need for mother's milk. In the second phase from ages four to seven the child remained at home. Education in the sense of learning obedience, manners and prayers was emphasized. From age four the child was taken to mass.

In this second period the father was responsible for providing sustenance, whether the child was of legitimate or illegitimate birth. The father had the legal right of patria potestad, which included the obligations to feed, clothe, discipline, educate, select occupations, and sanction the marital plans of children. In return, children were to obey parents and work without wages. In order to have a legal heir, fathers had to acknowledge paternity; otherwise the single mother had to support children alone, though mothers were denied the legal rights of patria potestad. Fathers who felt little obligation to children existed at all levels. During the colonial period orphaned children were usually the responsibility of grandparents or their parents' siblings. Abandoned children, estimated between ten and twenty-five percent of births in the eighteenth century, were also cared for by families.

From age seven the child was seen as having "reason" and as morally responsible for his or her acts. The child was required to study, work, confess and follow the rituals of Catholicism. Girls were expected to be modest. At age seven the little boy could go to primary school or work for a salary in somebody's house while he learned a skill or profession. The little girl at that age began to help with domestic tasks, learn to sew and do embroidery, and very rarely might learn to read and write by a cleric or teacher. Until age ten children could not be legally punished for crimes. Families assumed any penalties for crime. After age ten girls and boys had to sleep separately. According to colonial law, girls could be married at twelve; boys at fourteen.

After age seven a child's labor was believed to have value, and judges emphasized the rights of an orphaned child from age seven to receive a salary from a tutor, and not to be exploited for free labor. However, there was no real discussion about what kind of work was appropriate for that age, or how many hours the child should work. In the eighteenth century the state began to exert influence as levels of child abandonment grew. In the nineteenth century mothers began to argue for child custody and to be awarded patria potestad, usually with little success.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries we see the emergence of an ethic of protection of children, including adolescents, with an emphasis on their fragility and assumed innocence, as well as the importance of education. Early nineteenth-century governments began to assist abandoned children through orphanages and poor houses, though many beneficent societies were associated with the Catholic Church or lay brotherhoods. In Mexico, families in hard times would sometimes "abandon" a child for some weeks or months at an orphanage, and then reclaim the child when the family had more resources. For older children, orphanages often functioned as workhouses where children remained until they were sent out for foster care, often as servants. (14)

The concept of adolescence and a specific notion of how children ages twelve through nineteen should be treated were linked to the dramatic economic and social developments in late nineteenth century Latin America. These developments extended life expectancy and created expanded employment opportunities dependent on longer schooling. For example, the substantial sector of service occupations that developed in increasingly urbanized communities was an important source of new employment, particularly for children and women.

By the late nineteenth century, discourse based on enlightenment views of education as a means to foster civic responsibility were displaced by a growing penal consciousness intent on the prevention and punishment of crime. An ideology focused on children's protection was transformed into a preoccupation with order and social control. Nineteenth-century legislation very often targeted the social control of abandoned or orphaned children, since unruly vagrant youths were seen as potentially dangerous to society. In Brazil, the "child" began to be referred to as a "minor," with the latter term carrying an implication of danger and a tendency toward crime. The Brazilian Criminal Code of 1830 determined that a child between seven and fourteen could be sent to jail if the judge determined that the child understood his or her crime. Otherwise the child was sent to a juvenile correction house to age seventeen. Similarly, the Criminal Code of 1890 emphasized responsibility as related to a consciousness of duty, right and wrong, and the ability to appreciate the consequences of acts. This kind of emphasis implicitly argued that schooling rather than age determined the level of a child's responsibility. Until the first decades of the twentieth century the definition of "education" was essentially identical with that of "work". Much "education" took the form of apprenticeship or some kind of specific job. For adolescents in the lower classes this "education" was often provided through a kind of child-circulation, in which young people from poorer families were sent to serve in the homes or businesses of more elite families. By the early twentieth century efforts were made to limit the types and hours of labor for children under fourteen, and to specifically reinforce formal education for children. The 1890 code in Brazil specified that children under nine were mentally incapable of criminal behavior; those between nine and fourteen could be jailed if they understood their crime.

High child mortality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries helped to return the discussion somewhat to questions of child protection, though the criminal potential of unruly children continued to preoccupy jurists. Legislators refocused on childhood as "the key to the future". Intellectuals spoke of investing in children, and argued that society was protected through the protection of children.

Nevertheless, in Brazil and Chile, special juvenile justice systems were created in the 1920's to deal with "minors." Although legislators wished to rehabilitate delinquent children, they did not make education a priority because they saw education as a "dangerous weapon." It was recognized that education was an antidote for criminality; a minimal education was desirable to make "minors" into useful workers. Legislators debated the challenge of how to create an educated population that would also be docile and hardworking. Because the laws focused on marginal children, legislators did not consider developing a national policy of quality education accessible to all. Children continued at the margins in terms of social policy, still seen as a threat to law and order.

Mandatory schooling for children ages seven to fourteen was instituted in most of Latin America in the first decades of the twentieth century, though social control of an otherwise disruptive population was a major incentive. In addition, many lower-class families were unconvinced that education would improve the lives or economic choices of their children. While school attendance and literacy have improved in most countries, child labor continues to compete actively with schooling in the minds of many families and children. Families with minimal incomes often view the salaries of children as vital to family survival strategies. Observers in several Latin American countries argue that childhood as a stage of life is denied to a large proportion of their children; however, it might be more accurate to say that the childhood experienced by poor children is distinct from that of the elite.

Two measures since the return to civilian rule in Brazil have changed at least the rhetoric of Brazil's approach to children. Brazil's 1988 constitution specifically guarantees the protection of child and adolescent rights in article 227. In addition the Child and Adolescent Statute of 1990 replaced the previous juvenile criminal code (Codigo de Menores) to specify that children's rights to a dignified life should be upheld. In philosophical terms this would imply that children had ceased to be viewed as a danger to society and the object of state intervention, and instead would be seen as subjects and citizens with rights to be defended. (15)

III. Latin American family and kinship system is adaptable and continues strong even with globalization:

The forcefulness of family and kinship relations in Latin America cannot be measured by ordinary statistical means. While focus on studies of the US and Europe led researchers to anticipate the decline of the family and kinship in the Latin American context with modernization, scholars beginning in the 1950s have actually found the opposite.

Historical data on the Latin American family and kinship system testify to its ability to adapt to circumstances. For example, in spite of the extended kinship networks and recognition of family ties for a broad group of individuals, analysis of household data from censuses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries clearly demonstrate that the average household in Latin America was small and predominantly nuclear in nature. (16) Furthermore the data indicate that the expansion of the urban market resulted in an increase in household size as well as important changes in household composition based on productive needs. (17) For example a substantial expansion in the category of "agregado," or added on dependent members, in urban Sao Paulo households from 4.7 percent in 1765 to 26 percent in 1836 indicates the adaptability of the household and kinship network to increasing commercialization. (18) In the eighteenth century the average age of agregados was under 10 years, whereas by 1802 the age composition was overwhelmingly between the ages of 11 and 29.

Oscar Lewis was one of the first to observe that aggregate date concealed the importance of the family as a building unit between the individual and society, and to begin to investigate the strength of the Mexican family under conditions of change. (19) Charles Wagley similarly concluded that "There is a growing body of evidence that kinship relations and awareness of kinship need not disappear with industrialization and urbanization ... there is every reason to believe that, especially in those cultures where the tradition of familism has been strong, such as Brazil and other countries of Latin America, kinship will continue to play an important role in ordering social relations." (20) A number of other contemporary Latin America studies have shown the continued importance of kinship and fictive kinship even among populations sometimes referred to as "marginal," such as shanty towns. In these areas it seems to often be found that structures such as voluntary associations and even businesses will operate to reinforce kinship ties (21).

IV. Globalization Theory Argues the Weakening of Latin American Kinship and the Family With Modernization:

The vision of the decline of the family in Latin America coupled with that of the victimized and/or deviant child is one that did not develop as an independent phenomenon within Latin America. Like so many other aspects of modern life these ideas were substantially imported from industrial societies. As Jo Boyden observed, "[these ideas] provided a focal point for the development of both human rights legislation at the international level and social policy at the national level in a wide range of countries. It has been the explicit goal of children's rights specialists to crystallize in international law a universal system of rights for the child based on these norms of childhood. The present United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child comes closer to this goal than any previous international instrument. At the national level, child welfare has been a major pretext for state manipulation of the affairs of family and community." (22)

These efforts tend to see childhood as a fixed notion and not to appreciate the importance of culture within society. Research in sociology and social anthropology suggests that childhood is a social construct which depends critically on culture and historical context. This narrow global definition of childhood and what is appropriate to childhood very likely has had an important role in the common conclusion that kinship and the family in Latin America have declined with globalization.

Several scholars have argued that the strength of kinship ideologies, networks and alliances in Latin America has been underestimated. They suggest that a decline in traditional values and networks is often matched by the appearance of new alliances and innovative survival strategies. (23) For example, a report from the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs stated: "The development process, in particular, seems to produce changes in family roles and functions that may, on the one hand, be associated with the breakdown of the family and may, on the other, promote resilience and flexibility in adapting to new circumstances and may even foster the change process itself." (24)

V. Children in Latin America continue to utilize Kinship and Family Relations in creative and adaptive ways even as they interact ever more strongly with the Globalized Economy:

In many ways the starkest example of the impact of globalization on children in Latin America is the growing number of so-called street children. An issue in this debate is the way in which these children have been defined in the media and by international agencies, as well as the assumption that they are a homogeneous group in their family relationships and life experience. According to Judith Ennew, "Most writing about children and young people living on urban streets in developing countries assumes, or even insists, that they live in disorganized, illegal misery. They are described as psychologically (and irretrievably) damaged, unable to form relationships as the children that they are, and definitely destined for emotional, social and economic failure as the adults they will become" (25) This definition does not include the common assumption that street children are involved with drugs and crime and that they are entirely unattached to any kind of family structure, assumptions that permeate attitudes about street children in Brazil. Tobias Hecht comments: "One common trait of the talk about street children is its homogeneity. At the beginning of the 1990s it seemed that conference papers, brochures, and leisure magazine articles about street children were guided by a loosely agreed-upon recipe. The staple ingredients included a definition of the 'problem,' a pinch of history, a sprig of statistics about the size of the population, a dash on drugs and stealing, and a final shake in the form of suggestions for policy makers." (26) An additional characteristic of street children is that they are labeled "marginals" (marginais), meaning that they are living at the edges or on the margins of society and that they bring "danger" and criminal behavior. Increasingly as the centers of modern Latin American cities are beautified, privatized and generally cleaned up, the presence of poor, barefoot, ragged children is viewed as illegitimate. As Scheper-Hughes says in her quest to determine "Is any kid on the street without an adult a 'street kid?':" "Street children are simply poor children in the wrong place." She argues that a kind of "symbolic apartheid" exists in the urban cities of Brazil. (27)

These poor and possibly homeless children are a growing presence in cities all over Latin America. They have received international attention from human rights agencies focused on issues from child abuse to child labor and education. The movie Pixote: the law of the weakest (1980; 1981 outside Brazil) focused on the violent and violated lives of Brazilian children; it became a commercial success outside of Brazil and internationalized the idea that millions of poor and homeless Brazilian children live in the streets by violent means, and are themselves abused and murdered by police and death squads. A number of scholars have studied these children in a number of countries in Latin America.

Studies of street children usually include a discussion of how many exist and exactly who they are. There is much controversy on this subject. Clearly street children are much more common in large urban areas. While about 40% of the homeless in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were recent migrants in the 1990's, 60% were natives of the area. The homeless population in Sao Paulo doubled between 1991 and 1998. Also, the statistics on the proportion of children under 18 among the homeless varied from 40-60%. Estimates of street children in Brazil vary from 7,000 to 7,000,000, depending upon the source and how they are defined. Tobias Hecht has suggested a figure of 39,000, based on a ratio of 115 children living in the street for each 1 million urban residents. (28)

In this section I will argue that kinship and family continue to be an important source of identity and support for most street children, and also that the street children usually provide important resources for their families. In most of Latin America there is a substantial difference between the ideal family structure and what actually constitutes a "family." While the nuclear family is widely seen as ideal, it is far from prevalent. Latin American families which are often extended and matrifocal often appear in the media or popular literature as being "deviant" or "in crisis."

Matthew Gutmann has applied Antonio Gramsci's idea of "contradictory consciousness" to the attitudes of working-class Mexicans to changes in gender relations and family structure in Mexico. Gramsci defines this as "those who simultaneously hold uncritically to ideas and practices inherited from the past while they also develop new ways of thinking and doing based on the practical transformations of the real world in which they are constantly engaged." (29) This would seem an excellent description of how most Latin Americans adhere to traditional ideas about the family even as they are forced by circumstances to adapt family structure and roles to increasingly difficult economic circumstances and changing ideologies of the family. This contradiction does not mean, however, that the effort to maintain kinship and family relations along with commitment to that family has evaporated. It means rather that those relations are constantly in flux.

In his insightful book on street children in Recife, Brazil, Hecht argues, "Despite alarmist media reports, nearly all children in Brazil grow up in homes and never spend a night on the pavement. It is against this backdrop of 'home children' that street children are defined, define themselves, and become social agents." (30) Hecht contends that in the Northeast there are two competing contexts for childhood: nurtured childhood and nurturing childhood. The nurtured children are rich, the "ultimate consumers," unexpected to engage in productive activity. The "nurturing children" are the poor, "expected from an early age to contribute to the production and income of the household. And the children see supporting their mothers and nurturing the household as a virtue." (31) This perspective, which also is in agreement with historical perspectives on the significance of child labor in the family economy of poor Brazilians, provides an important insight into the activities of street children and how they see themselves (32).

In many lower-class Latin American families the mother is the focal point in family relations. That is, regardless of whether a man is absent or present in the household, women constitute the emotional and often the financial support for the family. In part this is because of the ubiquity of female-headed households and informal sexual unions among the lower classes. In most cases children who live on the street leave home gradually as changes take place in their home environment. No sudden abandonment takes place. (33) Often the changes in the home involve the introduction of a new stepfather and a real lack of sleeping space. Children are often sent out to the street in search of resources to bring home. Sometimes they come up empty handed and are afraid to go home that night. Often children have to travel long distances with multiple forms of transportation to go between the area they hope to find work in and their family. At times the effort and money to go home seem too much. In many cases the sleeping arrangements on the street are little different from what they face in the shack or shanty town in which their family is living. Sometimes the prospect of eating is better on the street than with their family.

When children are asked why they are living on the streets, many say they are working to help out their family. This conclusion emerged from a study of street children from Rio de Janeiro, the Amazonian city of Belem, and the northeastern city of Teresina in Brazil. (34) In a similar vein Hecht quotes Eufrasio, a 14 year-old Brazilian boy who he found "living" in the street. "I bring home money [to my mother] whether she's out of a job or working, because she's my mother. I bring it home to her, to my whole family. Even if there's nothing left over for me, I share. I've pushed a cart around [to collect bottles, cans, cardboard, and other items to sell]. I've gone out into the street to beg. I've begged lots of times." Hecht writes that he believes Eufarasio's explanation "... was a description of what he thought he ought to be doing rather than of what he in fact would habitually do, for, to the best of my knowledge, he never returned home at all while I was doing fieldwork in Brazil." (35) On the other hand Hecht quotes a mother of a dozen children saying "My luck in life is my children, who bring me money and food. I can't work with so many little ones around. Where would I be without them?" And another mother explains that she lost her house after the death of her son Alexandre who usually slept a couple nights a week in the streets, but had regularly brought money home to his mother (36).

While children have worked in the streets of Latin America as long as there have been streets, the consciousness of "street children" as a fearsome, violent group emerged in the modern era. The rapid pace of urbanization in Latin America since 1950 was provoked in part by the consolidation of rural properties for agro-business along with the promise of a better life and abundant work in service and construction work. However, Government authorities did not at the same time attend to expanded urban needs for popular housing, minimum wages, medical care and education. The "epidemic" of children in the streets is a symptom of this larger unsolved social problem. Children are in the streets because of insufficient resources at home, nowhere to sleep, not enough to eat, no money to pay for necessities. The streets of the wealthy are seen as a resource rich environment where children can effectively find money and food to take home to their families or to care for themselves. Either way it is a way of helping their mother.

Reformers often see mandatory education as a solution to the situation of street children. However, this is hazardous. As Hecht affirms:" Efforts at preventing children from working in the street threaten the position of poor urban children within the home. The more difficult it is for children to bring in resources to households that not only desperately need the fruits of child labor but morally expect them, the more vulnerable the child's status becomes.... Declaring the street out of bounds will only make the home less viable." (37)

VI. Conclusion:

There is no question that globalization has affected children and families in Latin America. Neoliberal reforms have generally resulted in the restriction of social programs that support education, welfare, housing, and medical care in Latin America. This result effectively further worsens the already extremely negative distribution of income in Latin American countries. Western ideas of childhood as a carefree time of life characterized by play, a stable home situation, the consumption of expensive toys and travel, and an education would be reserved to the wealthy. The tendency to blame the irresponsibility of families or even the children themselves for their situation is also a means for the society to exempt itself from the social disaster represented by the condition of children in popular classes in Latin America. (38) Additionally, criminalizing street children could be a way to bring them under state control. (39) Clearly childhood as an experience is socially constructed and exists differently in different contexts and also for different classes of children.

Nevertheless it is inaccurate to say that globalization has resulted in the disappearance in ties of kinship or the weakening of the family as a mechanism of social interaction and support. The Latin American family is a highly flexible structure that adapts quickly and effectively to social and economic change. Those adaptations are not easily detected through ordinary statistical means. Structures of dependence and reciprocity operate to support and sustain children in the wake of economic crisis, marital strife, and parental death or disappearance. Children in popular classes in Latin America often have several "mothers" during the time they are growing up. Children of the popular classes need their parents, but the parents also very much depend upon their children for economic support and other services. The majority of so-called street children are working in the street to bring resources to their families. Globalization has certainly had a role in limiting the ability of popular families in Latin America to participate in the formal economy, but it has not destroyed the family.


1. Nicolas Sanchez-Albornoz, The Population of Latin America: A History (Berkeley, 1974), 115 and 203.

2. Peter Laslett, Karla Osterveen, and Richard M. Smith (eds). Bastardy and its Comparative History (Cambridge, 1980), 17. Elizabeth Kuznesof, "Sexual Politics, Race and Bastard-Bearing in Nineteenth-Century Brazil: A Question of Culture or Power?" Journal of Family History 16:3 (1991): 241-60. Nara Milanich, "Historical Perspectives on Illegitimacy and Illegitimates in Latin America" in Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society edited by Tobias Hecht (Madison, 2002), 72-101

3. Goode, "World Changes in Family Patterns" in Goody, 371.

4. Roberto da Matta, A casa e a rua: espaco, cidadania, mulher e morte no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro, 1987), 31-69.

5. E. Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family (London, 1976), pp. 11, 170, 192-96. Also see the discussion in Hugh Cunningham, Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500 (London, 1995), 8-15.

6. Shorter.

7. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (Berkeley, 1992).

8. Manuel L. Carlos and Lois Sellers, "Family, Kinship Structure, and Modernization in Latin America" Latin American Research Review VII:2 (1972), 95 and reference to John Gillin, "Mestizo America" In Most of the World edited by R. Linton, 171-172.

9. Sueann Caulfield, In Defense of Honor: Sexual Morality, Modernity, and Nation in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil (Durham, 2000), 4.

10. Elizabeth Kuznesof and Robert Oppenheimer, "The Family and Society in Nineteenth-Century Latin America: An Historiographical Introduction" in Journal of Family History 10:3 (1985), 215-234.

11. Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves: A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization (New York, 1967: English language reprint).

12. Oscar Lewis, Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztlan Restudied (Urbana, 1951). Marvin Harris, Town and Country in Brazil (New York, 1956). Robert Redfield, The Folkculture of Yucatan (Chicago, 1941).

13. Elizabeth A. Kuznesof, "Legal and Religious Rights and Responsibilities of Brazilian Childhood: A History (1500-1937)," Populacao e Familia 5 (2003): 255-272; Fernando Torres Londono, "A Origem do Conceito Menor" in Mary del Priore (Org), Historia da Crianca no Brasil (Sao Paulo, 1991), 129-145.

14. Silvia Marina Arrom, Containing the Poor: The Mexico City Poor House, 1774-1871 (Durham, NC, 2000) 89.

15. Ronald E. Ahnen, "Democracy and Homelessness in Brazil" in International Perspectives on Homelessness (Westport, 2001), 249.

16. In my 1986 study of Sao Paulo the mean household size for the free population varied between 4.05 in 1765 to 3.76 in 1836. Donald Ramos found a range of 5.2 to 13.1 for households (including slaves) in Minas Gerais, Brazil in 1804-38. The Iguape census of 1835 (which is a sugar producing region in Northeastern Brazil and includes slaves) produced a 7.59 average household size. Elizabeth Anne Kuznesof, Household Economy and Urban Development: Sao Paulo 1765 to 1836 (Boulder, 1986), 155-156. Donald Ramos, "City and Country: The Family in Minas Gerais, 1804-1838" Journal of Family History 3:4 (1978), 364. Arlene J. Diaz and Jeff Stewart, "Occupational Class and Female-Headed Households in Santiago Maior Do Iguape, Brazil, 1835" Journal of Family History 16:3 (1991), average based on data cited on page 302. This also agrees with Peter Laslett's findings in the edited collection Household and Family in Past Time (Cambridge, 1972).

17. Kuznesof, Household Economy, 7.

18. Elizabeth Kuznesof, "The Puzzling Contradictions of Child Labor, Unemployment and Education in Brazil" Journal of Family History 23:3 (1998), 229.

19. Oscar Lewis, "An Anthropological Approach to Family Studies" American Journal of Sociology 55(1950): 5:468-475 and "Urbanization Without Breakdown: A Case Study" Scientific Monthly: 75 (1952): 31-40.

20. Charles Wagley, "Luso-Brazilian Kinship Patterns: The Persistence of a Cultural Tradition" in Politics of Change in Latin America, edited by J. Mayer and R. Weatherhead (New York, 1964), 188-89.

21. Lisa Peattie, The View From the Barrio (Ann Arbor, 1968), 40-53; Bryan Roberts, Cities of Peasants: The Political Economy of Urbanization in the Third World (Beverly Hills, 1978). Janice Perlman, The Myth of Marginality: Urban Poverty and Politics in Rio de Janeiro (Berkeley, 1976).

22. Jo Boyden, "Childhood and the Policy Makers: A Comparative Perspective on the Globalization of Childhood," Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood edited by Allison James and Alan Prout (London, 1990), 191.

23. S. Lobo, A House of My Own: Social Organization in the Squatter Settlements of Lima, Peru (Tucson, AZ, 1982).

24. The Family: Models for Providing Comprehensive Services for Family and Child Welfare (New York, UN Department of International Economic and Social Affairs, November 1, 1984), 2.

25. Judith Ennew, "Parentless Friends: A Cross-Cultural Examination of Networks Among Street Children and Street Youth," in Social Networks and Social Support in Childhood and Adolescence edited by Frank Nestmann and Klaus Hurrelmann (Berlin, 1994), 409-410.

26. Tobias Hecht, At Home in the Street: Street Children of Northeast Brazil (Cambridge, 1998), 4.

27. Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Daniel Hoffman, "Brazilian Apartheid: Street Kids and the Struggle for Urban Space" in Small Wars: The Cultural Politics of Childhood edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Carolyn Sargent (Berkeley, 1998), 358.

28. Ahnen, "Democracy and Homelessness" 241 and 244; Hecht, At Home 101.

29. Matthew C. Gutmann "Mamitis and the Traumas of Development in a Colonia Popular of Mexico City" in Small Wars, 133. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Ed. Q Hoare and G.N. Smith (New York, 1971), 333 as cited by Gutmann.

30. Hecht, At Home, 78.

31. Ibid. 80-81.

32. Kuznesof, "Puzzling Contradictions", 229-236.

33. Lewis Aptekar, Street-Children of Cali (Durham, NC, 1988); Patricia C. Marquez, The Street is My Home: Youth and Violence in Caracas (Stanford, 1999). Tobias Hecht, At Home (Cambridge, 1998).

34. Thomas Sanders, "Brazilian street children: Part I: who they are" UFSI Reports (Indianapolis, 1987), 7.

35. Hecht, At home, 81-82.

36. Ibid., 82 and 88.

37. Hecht, At Home, 198.

38. Adriane Medina Celli, A Geracao da Rua: Um Estudo sobre as Criancas Marginalizadas no Rio de Janeiro (Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, 1986), 47.

39. Marquez, 8.

By Elizabeth A. Kuznesof

University of Kansas

Center of Latin American Studies

Lawrence, KS 66045-7574
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Author:Kuznesof, Elizabeth A.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Geographic Code:0LATI
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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