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A Focus on Children’s Rights in Brazil

The UNHCR has issued a report on a programme underway in Brazil which promotes access to education by ensuring the children of refugees are integrated into local schools and receiving a good education.

In the state of Rio Grande do Norte and its capital Natal in the north east of Brazil, the UNHCR programme has been supporting the children of Columbian refugees and in a town nearby, in partnership with UNHCR, the Brazilian government has set up a Solidarity Resettlement Programme. The UNHCR supports 62 refugees in the Rio Grande do Norte state and Brazil as a whole shelters over 4,000.

The UNHCR’s representative in Brazil, Andrés Ramirez, explained that ensuring refugees are enrolled in local schools, not only gives the children a normal routine which helps them settle, but also allows their parents time to look for work or study, so they can rebuild a new life. Having the children in education also means that parents begin to take part in meetings and events organised by the school, thus integrating them into the local community. But fundamentally, the UNHCR’s representative believes the whole programme is about giving children their rights, because “every refugee, be they a child, a young person or an adult, has the right to education”.

The rights of children are currently under debate in Brazil, as the President has recently put forward a bill to the Congress which would make the use of corporal punishment illegal. The bill draws on the experiences of more than twenty countries who have already outlawed corporal punishment on children.

Under current legislation, child abuse is illegal in Brazil, but the proposed bill would also outlaw smacking or spanking by parents as a cruel or degrading treatment which humiliates or threatens the child. If caught smacking their children, parents would at first be given a warning, but with repeat offences, could then be sent to child protection classes or even be forced to undertake psychiatric treatment.

The Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said the bill was not designed to prevent parents from educating their children, but he believed that corporal punishment was not the answer. “If punishment and whipping solved things, we wouldn’t have so much corruption and banditry in this country”, he said. The bill to ban corporal punishment still needs approval by both houses of Congress to pass into law, but the President of Brazil at least is convinced that it is possible to “do things in a different way.”

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