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Childhood, Research Approaches and Violence Reduction Strategies: The Experience in Favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The engagement of children in the illegal drug trade in favelas of Rio de Janeiro has increased significantly over the past thirty years. From having only a limited involvement in exchange for gifts or small amounts of money, since the 1980s children and youngsters have come to play increasingly complex and dangerous functions, being recruited mostly at the age of thirteen and taking higher "positions" in the hierarchy of trafficking. It is within this context that the Center for Economic and Social Analysis, funded by the Bernard van Leer Foundation, has conducted the research “Everyday life of small children in favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Recife”, interviewing over 60 children aged 5 to 8 years living in nine favelas on their perceptions of violence related experiences. In order to provide a “children-centered” research method, we composed an adapted form of an episodic interview method comprising the narratives as cognitive creations that enable particular interpretations and access to the symbolic world of the children. Furthermore, in order to find adequate access to the biographical/episodic knowledge of the participants, regarding their mental, emotional, social and cognitive stage of development, the episodic interview method was preceded by a drawing activity addressing topics such as "family/household" and "favela/community". Finally, this paper aims to present three different perspectives: a) the qualitative methodology used in order to understand the perspective of children about their everyday lives, particularly violent contexts; b) the ways in which the participants presented and interpreted verbally and graphically their situation of territorial contiguity with the illegal drug trafficking; and c) how this methodology, given the empirical experience in Rio de Janeiro, has proven to be an appropriate form of intervention, providing open lines of communication that can contribute in order to prevent the engagement of children in the illegal drug trade.