Infanticide among Brazil's Indigenous Communities

Even though much reliable data is missing, many of the deaths by infanticide in Brazil indigenous communities are masked by statistical data as deaths due to malnutrition or unspecified causes.

“Accurate data doesn’t exist. The little that is known about this issue comes from sources such as religious missions, anthropological studies or Special Indigenous Health coordinators, who pass on the information to the press before it is sent to the Ministry of Health where they become “undetermined or external causes of death””.Marcelo Santos, in “Indigenous Babies Marked to Die” (Brazilian Problems Magazine, SESC-SP (Social Service for Commerce – São Paulo), May-June 2007)

One of the first challenges in the eradication of infanticide is the gathering of reliable data. The government’s tendency is to try to minimize the problem. For FUNAI’s external affairs coordinator, Michel Blanco Maia e Souza, the infanticide cases don’t deserve to receive the government’s full attention. “We don’t have the figures, but I believe them to be isolated cases.”

Based on the Demographic Census in 2000, IBGE researchers have verified that for every thousand indigenous children that are born alive, 51.4 die before reaching one year of life, while in the same time period, the non-indigenous population showed a child mortality level of 22.9 per thousand. The infant mortality rate between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples showed a difference of 124%. The Ministry of Health informed that, also in 2000, infant mortality rose to 74.6 deaths in the first 12 months of life. Curiously, in the IBGE and Ministry of Health news, there is no explanation for the causes of death.

Many of the deaths by infanticide enter into the official data as death by malnutrition or by other mysterious causes (poorly defined causes – 12.5%, external causes – 2.3%, other causes – 2.3%).

According to Rachel Alcântara’s research, from the UNB (University of Brasilia), in the Xingu Indigenous Reservation alone, close to 30 children are murdered every year. And in accordance with the findings of Doctor Marcos Pellegrini (Hygiene and Health Expert), who up until 2006, coordinated the actions of the DSEI (Special Indigenous Health District center) Yanomami in Roraima State, 98 indigenous children were murdered by their mothers in 2004. In 2003, there were 68, making this practice the main cause of death among the Yanomami people.

The practice of infanticide has been recorded in several indigenous groups, including: the Uaiuai, the Bororo, the Mehinaco, the Tapirapé, the Ticuna, the Amondaua, the Uru-eu-wau-wau, the Suruwaha, the Deni, the Jarawara, the Jaminawa, the Waurá, the Kuikuro, the Kamayurá, the Parintintin, the Yanomami, the Paracanã and the Kajabi peoples.

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