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Debutantes of the Favela

Mariana Reis, 15, kisses her reflection on a mirror before attending a debutante ball organized by the Pacifying Police Unit program, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Debutantes of the Favela

The debutante ball marks girls' transition from childhood to adulthood and is common in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

The young women who made their coming out this particular night were not your typical society girls, but rather 15-year-olds from 36 of the city’s “favela” slums, escorted by the police officers who patrol their communities. The event marked the five-year anniversary of the pacifying police units, or UPPs - police battalions that have re-conquered slums that were ruled for decades by drug-dealing gangs and where police long feared to tread.

The event marked the five-year anniversary of the pacifying police units, or UPPs - police battalions that have re-conquered slums that were ruled for decades by drug-dealing gangs and where police long feared to tread. Officers in spotless uniforms gingerly held onto the debutantes’ hands as the girls paraded into the hall in their evening finest. The young women who attended the ball were chosen on the strength of essays they wrote describing how life had changed since the pacifying police units, or UPPs set up shop in their communities.