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Brazzil - Crime - April 2004

Brazil, World's Number 1 Killing Field

In Brazil, 40,000 people are killed, annually, by firearms,
according to the United Nations. The country's private sector
alone spends US$ 24 billion a year for protection. While
having only 2.8 percent of the planet's population, Brazil is
responsible for 11 percent of all the homicides committed on earth.

Angélica Gramático


Picture "Although Brazilians are only 2.8 percent of the world's population, the country has 11 percent of all the homicides committed on the planet. Unfortunately, that is a number that just keeps rising," laments Carlos Lopes, who represents the UN Development Program in Brazil. Lopes made his comments at the opening of an international seminar on weapons in Rio de Janeiro.

According to Lopes, 40,000 people are killed in Brazil, annually, by firearms. "That is more than the number of people killed in Iraq. It is difficult to comprehend that so many people die from gun wounds here, after all Brazil is supposed to be at peace," he said.

Lopes says that UN data shows that people in the private sector (this does not include the military) are spending almost US$ 24 billion annually for protection; this is the so-called "industry of fear." It is a thriving business that siphons off money from areas that need investments, such as social assistance, he explained.

Last year, the World Health Organization had already named Brazil the world's champion in murders, with one homicide occurring every 12 minutes. At that time the same Lopes had said, "Brazil is a world champion in areas that are not very positive."

The United Nations Development Program official compared the situation in Brazil with that the United States. "In Brazil," he said, "1 percent of homicides are cleared up. In the US, the number is 70 percent." Lopes said the way to improve the situation was to modernize the judicial branch of government and fix the country's prisons.

Calling the Young

The Unesco representative in Brazil, Jorge Werthen, called earlier this month for greater participation by youth in the definition of programs transmitted over the media and directed at young audiences. According to him, this would lead to a reduction in the violence of television and radio programs and movie productions and would permit a real socialization of knowledge and an increase in the self-esteem of children and adolescents.

For Werthen, the excessive use of images of violence on Brazilian TV encourages violence among young people. "It is important for the media to be able to supervise and adopt a critical perspective, with regard, for example, to a fundamental problem in Brazil, the excessive and unacceptable bearing of firearms, which, regrettably, cause a quantity of murders, basically affecting young people between 15 and 24 years old, that is nearly a world record by international standards," he said.

According to Ana Lúcia Sabóia, coordinator of the Synthesis of Social Indicators study released by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), violence in Brazil's large cities is a problem caused by the very intense, rapid urbanization process that has occurred in the last 20 years.

Sabóia informed that in the last 20 years urban violence has been responsible for 500 thousand deaths throughout the country, hitting, in large part, the Brazilian youth population. Rio de Janeiro, Sabóia added, leads these indexes. In every group of 100 thousand residents of the state, 181 young people are killed in crimes involving the use of firearms.

According to the researcher, the murders end up producing a growing decline among males, compared with the female population in the 14-25 age bracket. The data presented by the IBGE show that the urban centers contain 85 percent of the country's population, the distribution of which remains concentrated in the Southeast region.

Angélica Gramático works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.

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