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Brazzil - Children - July 2004

Kids in Brazil: Great Law Not Enough

Brazil is celebrating the 14th anniversary of its Child and Adolescent
Statute. Before this statute, 30 percent of Brazilian school age
children were not in the classroom. Today that number has
dropped to 3 percent. For the law to be really effective, however,
it's believed that there should be room for NGOs to help authorities.

Luciana Vasconcelos


Picture 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 Adolescente—Child 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.

ECA's role

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," she said.

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.

Brazil Example

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 developed.

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 lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.

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