Ricardo, Montevideo, Uraguay
I am 16, but not for much longer. My birthday is soon, although I have never received a birthday present in my life. I’ve been living on the street for the last six years.
My parents are living but not together. My mother ran off with my father’s brother, though not before having nine children with my father. Now my father has a new woman who is pregnant with a new brother or sister for me.
It was my choice to live on the streets and not with my family. There were too many of us living in the small house in the cantigrill [slum]. I did not get on with my sister. Also there wasn’t enough money for all of us to eat. It was terrible. So I took to the streets to be with my eldest brother who was already sleeping there, as were two of my other younger brothers.
I have to work. I don’t go to school, I can read and write very little and am too young for a good job, so I sell estamjatos [cards with religious images] on the street, on buses or in restaurants. I often get pulled out of places by the arm and people shout at me to leave.
Usually I work from 9am to 4pm, but I never eat anything until I stop, which is when I’ve made my money. I make a maximum of 200 pesos [$7] per day.
After work I buy milanesa [meat coated in breadcrumbs], drink wine and smoke marijuana. If I am drunk, I like to go to the beach. I only take pastabase [a form of crack cocaine, highly addictive and very cheap] occasionally because I only wish to try it. I smoke and drink because I need to forget my day – my situation, my life, is difficult and I need help to sleep.
Life on the street is hard enough but the police and other strangers make it worse. There are people on the street who molest children. I have been raped. The police are very violent with us; they don’t help us children. Once when I was very hungry and desperate for clothes I robbed a lady. I took her handbag. A policeman saw me. He grabbed me and beat me. Then I was put in prison for nine months [in an adult prison without trial at the age of 14]. The prison was horrible. The police beat me; they sprayed teargas or pepper spray or something in my eyes regularly. I was alone but at least I got 4 meals a day. [He shows his torso covered with scars and cigarette burns.]
I knew a kid, nine years old, who slept in an abandoned car that had no wheels or windows because it was warm in there. One night a man came with a lighter and burned him alive. When we went to the police they did nothing.
The only thing I hate in the world is the police.