, Volume 43, Issue 10, pp 816-823
Date: 12 May 2008

Trafficking among youth in conflict with the law in São Paulo, Brazil

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Engagement in drug trafficking may place a child or youth at risk for exposure to severe violence, drug abuse, and death. However, little is know about the nature of youth involvement in drug trafficking. The purpose of this study is to describe drug trafficking behaviour of delinquent youth and identify adverse experiences as potential predictors of trafficking.


Cross-sectional sample of youth (12–17 years of age) incarcerated in detention facilities for delinquent or criminal acts in São Paulo City, Brazil. Structured face-to-face interviews completed with 325 youth (289 boys, 36 girls).


Approximately half of the boys and girls in this sample have had at least some role in drug trafficking prior to incarceration. Though youth who had engaged in drug trafficking activities did not differ on basic socio-demographic variables, they were more likely to have been exposed to a number of adverse experiences. Beyond heavy substance use, no longer attending school, gang involvement, witnessing violence, and easier access to guns, drugs and alcohol remained significantly related to trafficking involvement in the final regression model. Girls experienced a very similar pattern of adverse exposures as boys.


Special efforts may be required for rehabilitation of youth who engage in drug trafficking. Potential targets may include keeping or re-engaging delinquent youth in school for longer periods of time and reducing youth exposure to violence in poor urban communities.