What is referred to as structural violence is the main reason that Brazilian children and adolescents are assigned to shelters. This is one of the findings of the National Survey of Shelters for Children and Adolescents, conducted by Brazil’s IPEA.
The IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research) analyzed the profile of the children and youngsters assigned to these institutions and the reason they are there.
Structural violence encompasses a group of factors: unemployment, the family’s lack of financial means, parental maladjustment, and mistreatment, among others.
The general coordinator of the study, Enid Rocha, said that “the profile is mainly one of social exclusion.”
The majority of children and adolescents assigned to shelters are boys (58.5%), black (63% ), and are in these institutions for reasons related to poverty and material need (24.1%).
In terms of age groups, the IPEA study reveals that the residents of shelters are generally older children, for whom reintegration in the family and adoption are more problematical.
In the 589 federally funded shelters included in the survey, the IPEA confirmed the presence of 20 thousand children and adolescents. The largest concentration is in the Southeastern region and, in terms of states, São Paulo.
Rocha informed that the majority of these children have families (87%), and most of them maintain ties with their families (58.2%), despite the prevailing social belief which considers them orphans.
Notwithstanding the continuity of this relationship, the family’s lack of financial means is the reason given for assignment to a shelter, Rocha pointed out.
She went on to comment that Brazilian law does not recognize this as a motive for parents to deposit their children in shelters. “According to the Statute of Children and Adolescents, material need cannot lead to the privation or loss of parental authority.”
She observed, however, that the situation of material want, precarious living conditions, and unemployment cannot be dissociated from situations of violence within the family. “It is impossible for us to dissociate these two phenomena,” she affirmed.
Rocha indicated the need to impose discipline on admission to the shelters. “The data demonstrate that it behooves us to regulate this entryway, because, according to the Statute (of Children and Adolescents), assignment to a shelter cannot be for reasons of material need, and a shelter is one of the last measures that should be adopted,” she explained.
The law determines a series of steps prior to assignment to a shelter, such as, for example, providing guidance to the family and requiring the child to be enrolled at school. When the case involves violence and mistreatment, the aggressor should be removed from the home.
“Our legislation provides for all of this on the grounds of coexistence within the family, to postpone and avert going to a shelter. But what we observe is that there is an indiscrimate application of this measure,” she said.
Besides material need, children end up in shelters for reasons of abandonment by parents and guardians (18.8%), domestic violence (11.6%), and drug addiction on the part of parents and guardians (11.3%).
Among the total of children and adolescents covered by the survey, which the IPEA carried out in 2003 in 589 Brazilian shelters, 32.9% had been living in the shelters for a period ranging from two to five years, and only 10.7% could be adopted. The comparison was based on data from the year before.