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Inequality not Poverty Begets Crime in Brazil

 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.
by: Irene
Lobo

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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