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Brazzil - People - July 2004
 

Inequality not Poverty Begets Crime in Brazil

One of the factors in the equation of social inequality in Brazil is the
extreme poverty that 4.2 million of 34 million young Brazilians
live in. They come from families with a monthly income
of slightly more than US$ 22 (one-fourth of Brazil's minimum
wage). The numbers get even worse as one's skin gets darker.

Irene Lobo


Brazzil

Picture On one side of the equation, fair-skinned young people, fashionably dressed, who are, well, very well: well-adjusted, wellborn, well-bred, well-conditioned and well-educated. And poised to do very well in life: good jobs, good salaries and all the worker benefits that are their due.

On the other side, dark-skinned young people, doing badly. Badly dressed, badly educated and badly, if at all, employed—probably in some makeshift job with no benefits at all. At most, a subsistence salary.

The disparities between the two sides of the Brazilian social equation is the main reason for so much of the youth violence that occurs in Brazil, says a study by the Ipea (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada—Applied Economic Research Institute.

"Social inequality is the major cause of youth violence. It is the context of that violence, the setting where these youths between the ages of 15 and 24 live out their lives in the midst of the problem," says Luseni Aquino, who wrote the study together with Enid Rocha.

One of the factors in the equation of social inequality is the extreme poverty that 4.2 million (12.2 percent) of these 34 million young Brazilians live in. They come from families with a monthly income of slightly more than US$ 22 (one-fourth of Brazil's minimum wage).

The majority of them, 67 percent, have not concluded elementary school (they are functionally illiterate), and over 30 percent have no employment and do not go to school.

Tragically, the numbers get even worse as one's skin gets darker. The Ipea study found that among blacks, the illiteracy rate rose to 73 percent, and 71 percent of them have no employment and do not go to school.

The point the study makes is that it is not the poverty, but the social inequalities that drive youth violence.

"Violence mostly affects the poor, so the usual simplistic conclusion is that poverty causes violence. But that is not true," says Rocha. "The fact that someone is poor does not mean he or she will be violent. We have no lack of cases of violence by middle class youths."

The researchers say that one way to reduce inequalities is to introduce mechanisms that increase the income of the extremely poor. "The solution is to promote social inclusion through education and jobs. The pathway to social ascension goes through schooling and work," explains Rocha.

One income increasing mechanism the government has implemented is the Family Voucher program which gives families that earn up to US$ 33 (100 reais) per month a supplemental income. At the moment, the program gives benefits to 3.9 million families.

Wrong Sentence

The non-governmental representative on the Conanda (Conselho Nacional dos Direitos da Criança e do Adolescente—National Child and Adolescent Rights Council), Cláudio Vieira, says that only 10 percent of the 10,000 youths currently in jail around the country should be there.

"The main problem is incorrect application of the Child and Adolescent Statute. It sets forth six punitive measures, running from a warning to incarceration. There is no reason for so many youths to be in jail," declared Vieira, speaking at a ceremony celebrating the 14th anniversary of the statute.

Commemorations of the anniversary of the statute include the distribution of one million copies of the document, a partnership with the Federal Police to disarm youths and a report from a congressional investigative commission on sexual exploitation of youths.

Government Help

Economic growth is not going to be sufficient to create a place in the job market for young Brazilians. There is a need, as well, for government programs to reduce social inequality, says Regina Novaes of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who is part of the Youth Project of the Citizenship Institute (Projeto Juventude, do Instituto Cidadania).

The project just ran a survey, interviewing 3,501 youths between the ages of 15 and 24, in order to get a reading on the concerns and dreams of Brazil's 34 million youths in that age group (20 percent of the population).

The survey found that 36 percent of those interviewed had a job, 24 percent were effectively out of the job market (never had a job and were not looking for work), 32 percent have had a job but are presently unemployed, and 8 percent are looking for jobs, although they have never worked.

According to Novaes, young people are "afraid of being left out of the future." She points out that this is a generation that has grown up during a recession where parents and relatives have lost their jobs, the purchasing power of wages has fallen and there is a prevailing fear that people who lose their jobs will be unable to find a new job.


Irene Lobo 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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