Brazil commandos despair over child soldiers as young as eight recruited by drug lords

South American special forces team tells of war on crime during UAE Swat Challenge in Dubai

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A Brazilian police chief has told of how children as young as eight are being recruited by ruthless crime cartels to serve on the front lines of the nation's drug war.

Glauber Guedes, who heads a team of 65 commandos, said many come from slum-like neighbourhoods — known as favellas — where they see little other opportunity of freedom from poverty.

He spoke of the harsh realities of the fight against crime at the UAE’s Swat Challenge, where he is competing as part of Brazil's federal team.

Another member of the elite squad said most of the young gang members were dead by the age of 25.

“These areas are dominated by criminal gangs,” Mr Guedes said.

“Children as young as eight find no options other than being recruited by drug gangs.”

“It's a different reality, they are like children soldiers.”

As a father of two himself, he admits it is a hugely challenging situation.

“I don’t know how to describe our feelings at the sight of armed children.”

He said he and his team adapt their response when they have guns pointed at them by young children, and have never had recourse to open fire.

“We reposition to avoid such a scenario, especially that we head to a mission knowing there will be children involved.

“And we make sure our plan is focused on arrests not kills.”

Young victims of gang warfare

Fernando Camargos, 44, spoke of the stark consequences for those who join Brazil's drug gangs.

“The majority of the children who work with drug gangs don’t make it beyond the age of 25,” he said.

He said they were killed not in shoot-outs with police but in battles with rival gangs.

“We want the government to provide them with better services and access to good education so they can find better options in life other than joining the life of crime," he said.

“With no schools, electricity, water and services, how can they live?”

Life in Brazil's favellas

Mr Guedes said daily life in the impoverished favellas was fraught with danger.

“There are many crimes happening, such as drug trafficking and armed bank robberies,” he said.

One team member, Matias, recalled being badly injured after accidentally hurtling out of a helicopter during a mission in 2019.

“It was a raid on a drug-trafficking gang in Salgueiro in the city of Pernambuco,” said Matias.

“I was thrown out of the helicopter and broke almost every bone in my body. My forearm bones were sticking out of my skin.”

It took six operations, two months in a wheelchair and a year of rehabilitation for Matias get back on his feet and return to fighting crime.

“It's my dream job and I love it," he said. "My family is even more scared for my life after the accident but they know I can’t leave it.”

While they are based in the capital, the federal team members have to fly to various cities in Brazil to respond to high-risk situations.

“We know its dangerous but we put that thought aside and focus on how we could accomplish the mission,” said team member Vitor Merljak, 36.

He said responsibilities were huge for the federal Swat team.

“Our missions are always either high or extreme risk missions,” he said.

“Last year about 200 officers were killed out of about 42,000 total violent deaths. Officers are often targeted when they are off duty."

This is what goes on inside the UAE's high-octane Swat challenge

This is what goes on inside the UAE's high-octane Swat challenge

UAE Swat Challenge day two

During the second day of the competition, the assault event put elite officers’ speed, accuracy and teamwork to the test.

Dubai Police’s team B came first with 55 points, followed by SOBR from Serbia with 54. Abu Dhabi Police team A came third with 53.

On day two, More than 24 national, regional and international police and security agencies also took part in a discussion on the future of joint security co-operation for Swat forces.

Participants spoke of the need to generate new ideas for all types of Swat operations and to explore the latest negotiation techniques and technology, such as drone systems and modern weapons.

Updated: February 22, 2023, 11:24 AM