The Children of Rio: Capturing Changes through the Lives of Young People

19 June 2012
Author: UNFPA

At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit world leaders signed up to a series of agreements intended to create a greener, fairer world – a world that would guarantee future resources for our children. That same year tve started filming the lives of 11 babies - born in 10 different countries around the world.

The idea was simple: to track the impact of the Rio pledges on the lives of our children as they grew up, documenting the changes globalization and development were bringing to their lives as well as to their families and communities – in a series of films that would be broadcast on global, regional and national TV channels and distributed for ongoing educational and campaigning outreach.

Over the last 20 years tve returned to film key moments in the children’s lives. On the eve of a new Earth Summit, their lives, hopes, fears and ambitions for the future provide a multifaceted look at what it feels like to grow up in our fast-changing world.

Several of the films were supported by UNFPA and capture specific ways in which our mandate impacts the lives of individuals.

For example, Rosamaria was born in Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest, most violent slums. When first interviewed, at age 10, Rosamaria was in school. She talked about wanting the roof of her family’s shack fixed and why she thought education was important. In the latest film, we discover that she did not
stay in school because she was disruptive in class. She became pregnant. Her boyfriend left her and she is a single mother. Her hopes are now invested in her child.

Panjy (Panjarvanam), born in the village of Manachpuram in Tamil Nadu, southern India, into a family dependent on the local fireworks industry. In 2011, we find that although Panjy really wanted to continue with education, her family could not afford her school fees and needed her to work to pay off loans, for her and her sister’s dowries. Now married, Panjy is still hoping to escape the firework industry, and has ambitions to become a tailor but can’t afford the cost of a sewing machine.

Erdo is one of 16 children born into a family of nomadic cattle herders in northern Kenya, a region hit by frequent droughts that are predicted to increase with climate change. After his father took a third wife and refused to help out any more with his school fees, Erdo as a young teenagers left his family and joined a street gang in the local town. But his mother did not give up on him. Despite her commitments to 15 other children and her cattle, she tracked him down, and administered some tough love. Erdo is now back at school, where he has big ambitions to become a lawyer and fight corruption in Kenya.

Kay Kay is an only child, born in the sprawling and now prosperous city of Guangzhou in southern China.

Today she is emblematic of China’s economic miracle over the last 20 years. Her parents have worked hard to pay for her schooling and provide a comfortable home. She’s just completed major exams, is waiting for the results to see if she can get to university, and is meanwhile looking for part-time work.

UNFPA: delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

200.2 mil
  • Fertility rate
  • Maternal Mortality Ratio
  • Contraceptives prevalence rate
  • Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment:
Boys -
Girls -