The Interamerican Human Rights Court, meeting in San José, Costa Rica, is holding public hearings on Brazilian minors who are incarcerated at the Tatuapé Juvenile Delinquent Center (Complexo do Tatuapé da Fundação do Bem-estar do Menor de São Paulo) in São Paulo city, Brazil.
There have been numerous riots and problems at the Tatuapé center, along with many reports of human rights abuses. The hearings are focused on ways and means to protect the children and adolescents at the center.
Febem’s Tatuapé Complex has already faced 18 mutinies this year, which resulted in two deaths of youngsters being confined in the institution. That facility, in São Paulo’s East Zone, is the biggest compound operated by Febem. The place houses 1.450 (about 21%) of all the children at the care of Febem in state of São Paulo.
In 2004, frequent uprisings and charges of mistreatment led two groups, the Teotônio Vilela Commission and the Center for Justice and International Rights, to appeal to the OAS’s (Organization of American States) human rights commission to investigate charges of mistreatment and beating of children.
The Interamerican Commission urged that measures be taken to end the irregularities. The measures that were suggested, however, were considered useless by the authorities, who argued that they were being asked to take steps that had already been taken, according to a report sent to the commission by the government, on January 10, 2005.
The commission disagreed and filed charges with the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, OAS’s top court for human rights. The Commission mentions several irregularities found in the Tatuapé’s Complex, which would justify that the international court take "temporary measures" (immediate measures to guarantee the youngsters’ rights).
"During recent months there were cases that demonstrate that the life of those housed at he institution was in constant risk. The threats among youngsters, fights, scuffles, tortures and mutinies allegation happen with excessive frequency, while the authorities, who admittedly know the gravity of the problem, have not taken the necessary measures to remedy the situation," says the document.
Beyond Nice Words
The report,"Moving Agreements on from Paper," drafted earlier this year by more than 40 non-governmental organizations that work for young people in Brazil, highlights the reality of young people who are in jail and demonstrates the inefficiency of government policies to combat juvenile delinquency.
The document provides data from the National Penitentiary Department, which shows the social inequality among this segment of the population. Around 30% of the country’s prison population is in the 18-24 age bracket, and 40% of them didn’t have jobs before they were put in jail, and 51% were out of school.
For Renata Florentino, representative of the Integrar Group, one of the organizations that prepared the report, the State has to pay more attention to this question. She says that there are two fragile items when it comes to putting kids in jail: the guaranty of the rights of those who are incarcerated. and cut off from outside contacts.
"The quality of the policies that guarantee the rights of the prison population is bunk, that’s when it’s respected. Access to education in prison is nearly non-existent. And the relationship with the outside world is practically non-existent.
"When you get someone out, to try to make things better, so that he can become a good member of society, you can’t imagine that the dude will prepare himself to become a total member of society."
Florentino also points to the need to revise the Statute of Children and Adolescents, when it comes to punishing young violators of the law.
"The Statute has never been applied firmly. The condition of the Febem and the Cajes (institutions for delinquent kids) need to be cared for better to improve things," he suggests.
In the report, the non-governmental organizations accuse the institutions that care for delinquent kids of practicing torture. They cite the case of São Paulo, where 1,750 employees of the São Paulo Febem were fired after corrupt practices were discovered in the institution.
The report says that less than 10% of the crimes committed in the country are committed by adolescents. "That is, the universe of youngsters who commit crimes is small, and, among their numbers, those who practice crimes against life or terrible crimes are small in number," according to the report on Juvenile Delinquency.
One of the items considered delicate in the document is the defense by some groups of lowering the penal age from 18 to 16. The report reproduces a study last year by the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), showing that 89% of the population is in favor of reducing the age. 1,700 people in 16 capitals of the country were interviewed, from the social classes A, B, C, and D.