Minister Nilmário Miranda, who heads Brazil's Special Secretariat for
Human Rights, says that much progress has been made in the 14 years that the
Brazilian ECA (Estatuto da Criança e do AdolescenteChild and
Adolescent Statute) has been in existence, but problems remain in dealing
with youths involved in criminal activities.
"We belong to a tradition
of repression. People think that tossing bad kids into jail resolves the problem,"
declared the Minister, speaking at the opening of the First National Youth
Conference in Brasilia, July 13.
The ECA prescribes the
following measures in cases of youth crime: a warning, mandatory reparation
of damages, community service, assisted liberty (parole), semiliberty or incarceration
in an educational institution.
Nilson Alves, director
of citizenship and youth projects at Unicef, says that discussions on lowering
the age of criminal responsibility or harsher sentencing miss the point.
He says it is important
to apply the socio-educational measures in the ECA. "That is the only
way a youth can be reintegrated into society," he declares.
Edson Seda, one of the
authors of the ECA, says all that has to be done is put the document into
practice. "During the XXI century, Brazilians will become aware of the
fact that children should not be beaten, parents are supposed to protect their
children, local authorities should assist parents and, finally, the right
place for a child is in school," he says.
Seda says the ECA has
made some progress. Before the ECA, 30 percent of Brazilian school age children
were not in the classroom. Today that number is 3 percent. But, he says, for
the ECA to be really effective, there has to be room for NGOs to function
along with federal, state and municipal authorities.
Unicef says that the Brazilian
ECA is one of the most advanced in the world. But it will become reality only
when remaining disparities are overcome and each and every one of the 61 million
boys and girls in the country have equal opportunities.
At a meeting organized
by the NGO Visão Mundial (World Vision), a number of youths were invited
to comment on their lives and the role of the Brazilian Child and Adolescent
Statute (ECA). Known as the First Youth Conference, it was part of celebrations
of the 14th anniversary of the ECA.
Lourisvanda Alves de Souza,
18, from Bodocó, Pernambuco, told the meeting that she heard of the
ECA only last year at another youth conference. She declared that what she
has observed is that many laws just exist on paper. "The laws are not
part of our lives, although they deal with our rights and obligations,"
Dayana da Silva, 15, from
Rio de Janeiro, reported that the ECA actually changed her family's life.
When her older brothers got involved with drugs, her mother went to a youth
tutelage board (Conselho Tutelar), which was set up by the ECA, and got assistance.
Today, Dayana and her younger sister study, while her brothers abandoned drugs,
got married and have jobs.
At the conference, it
was announced that one million copies of the ECA will be distributed in schools
and other civil organizations. Meanwhile, the secretariat has set up a partnership
effort with the Federal Police to disarm youths, making it possible for them
to grow up in an environment where there is less violence and more peace.
The director of the International
Labor Organization (ILO) in Brazil, Armand Pereira, thought it would be ideal
if Brazil could assign priority to reducing child labor in the 5-13 age bracket.
He spoke recently at the opening of the seminar "Child Labor at the Start
of the 21st Century: Analysis of Data and Prospects."
A study by the Brazilian
Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) on child labor in Brazil found
that there are 1.5 million working children and adolescents in the 5-13 age
bracket, another 1.5 million in the 14-15 group, and 2.4 million adolescents
between 16 and 17 irregularly inserted in the labor market.
In Pereira's view, this
study, which covered the period 1992-2002, and the media played a fundamental
role in advancing the process of eradicating child labor in the country.
According to Pereira,
"there are programs to delay the entry of young people in these age groups
into the workplace, through the distribution of grants for them to stay in
school and not go to work."
The Ministry of Social
Development's Program for the Eradication of Child Labor (Peti) currently
benefits 810 thousand children in 2,606 Brazilian municipalities. The Peti
is meant to eliminate what are considered the worst forms of child labor,
those regarded as dangerous, burdensome, unhealthful, or degrading, such as
in charcoal kilns, brickyards, sugarcane fields, and tobacco plantations.
The program pays a grant
to families with children between 7 and 15 who are involved in these types
of work. In return, the family must pledge to remove the children from work
and enroll them in school.
The National Coordinator
of the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor, Pedro
Américo Furtado de Oliveira, told the seminar that Brazil was one of
the first countries to establish a program to combat child labor and is recognized
as a model for Latin America and the world, because of the policies that were
Oliveira recalled that
"Brazil developed the Program for the Eradication of Child Labor (Peti),
created by the Ministry of Social Development in 1996, even before it ratified
the two ILO conventions that deal with child labor, in 2000 and 2001."
Luciana Vasconcelos works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press
agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.