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Protecting black children must be a priority for Brazilian lawmakers

. Jan 11, 2021
black brazil racism Anti-racism demonstration in São Paulo, June 2020. Photo: Felipe Manorov Gomes/Shutterstock

Potentially the most negative stereotype about Brazil is its image of being a violent country, underpinned by its shocking homicide rate. In fact, the appalling total of 41,600-plus murders recorded in 2019 was almost celebrated in Brazil, being the lowest level in more than a decade. As recently as 2017, figures peaked at almost 60,000 homicides in a single year — a rate of 31.6 murders per 100,000 people, over six times higher than that of the U.S.

But violence does not affect all Brazilians equally, and children are disproportionately victimized. 

According to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, 10,067 children aged 0-19 years old were killed in 2018.

Since 1991, nearly 232,000 children have been murdered, 70 percent of which were victims of gun violence. The organization estimates that 2,215 children died at the hands of the police between 2017 and 2019. </p> <p>Furthermore, data from the Brazilian Public Health System (DataSUS) indicates that <a href="https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/gun-violence-killing-brazils-children-especially-black-children-why-havent-policymakers">black and multiracial children</a> are disproportionately affected by gun violence.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h2>Black children lives, a legislative matter&nbsp;</h2> <p>With the 2021 legislative year beginning in February, there are several reasons why members of Congress should embrace the agenda of protecting children — especially black children — from the effects of Brazil&#8217;s violence epidemic.</p> <p>To begin with, addressing this issue could help improve Brazil’s international image as a violent country. Moreover, actions to mitigate the murder of vulnerable populations may be interpreted by foreign investors as a step toward order and stability.&nbsp;</p> <p>Embracing this agenda could also produce positive outcomes for Congress itself, whose performance has been increasingly <a href="https://www.poder360.com.br/poderdata/cresce-parcela-de-brasileiros-que-desaprovam-atuacao-do-congresso/">criticized</a> by Brazilian citizens.</p> <p>This year started off poorly with another child falling victim to gun violence in Rio de Janeiro. At a New Year’s Eve party, five-year-old <a href="https://www.correiobraziliense.com.br/brasil/2021/01/4898071-rj-menina-de-5-anos-morre-ao-ser-baleada-durante-a-virada-do-ano.html">Alice Pamplona da Silva</a> was struck in the neck by a stray bullet and died from her injuries. In December, two other children — <a href="https://g1.globo.com/rj/rio-de-janeiro/noticia/2020/12/10/emily-e-rebecca-laudos-indicam-que-tiros-atingiram-figado-coracao-e-cabeca.ghtml">Emily Victoria da Silva (4) and Rebecca Beatriz Rodrigues Santos (7)</a> — were murdered while playing in front of their house in Rio de Janeiro.&nbsp;</p> <p>These deaths have become so prevalent that a group of mothers founded an <a href="https://oglobo.globo.com/brasil/com-duas-criancas-mortas-cada-dia-pela-policia-no-brasil-familiares-se-mobilizam-em-busca-de-justica-24821841">NGO</a> to seek justice for their murdered children. Legislators can capitalize on the issue’s salience in society to make legal changes that would protect Brazil’s young people. In doing so, they can credibly claim to be resolving pressing social issues.&nbsp;</p> <p>This agenda should be more appealing to Congress if Baleia Rossi is elected as House Speaker on February 2. Mr. Rossi’s bid is endorsed by a broad coalition of parties that would likely support efforts focused on reducing violence. Furthermore, protecting the lives of children is what political scientists call a “valence issue,&#8221; which has significant consensus throughout society. In theory, no one is against protecting children from being murdered, which should facilitate legislative actions to address the issue.&nbsp;</p> <p>The good news is that such action would require relatively little effort from legislators. Bill 9796/2018, which creates a National Plan to Combat the Killing of Young People, was approved by the Senate in 2018 and is ready for a vote in the House of Representatives.&nbsp;</p> <p>The bill seeks to reduce the number of youth homicides to less than ten per 100,000 people over the next ten years. It would also seek to prosecute up to 80 percent of crimes against children and teenagers, which holds implications for deaths caused by police intervention.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, the House finally <a href="https://www.camara.leg.br/noticias/714400-camara-aprova-proposta-que-ratifica-a-convencao-interamericana-contra-o-racismo/">raised the issue of racism to its agenda</a>. Legislators should follow last year’s trend of concern for social issues and approve bill 9796/2018, in what would be a promising start to 2021.

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Beatriz Rey

Beatriz Rey is a research fellow at the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University and a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

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