Brazil Govt Faces Up to Spiraling Youth Homicides

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In Brazil, 42,000 young people — the majority non-white males — will die violently between 2013 and 2019, according to a recent study, raising questions about how the country plans to reduce youth violence.

The projection, based on youth murder statistics from 2012, was presented at a January 28 press conference by the Brazilian government, UNICEF, and members of civil society.

“Inequality is reflected in the map of violence,” Brazilian Minister for Human Rights Ideli Salvatti said at the conference. Previous breakdowns of youth murder statistics in the country have shown that they are skewed by race, gender, and income.

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Non-white youths are three times more likely to die violently than white children, boys are almost 12 times more likely to be killed than girls, and much of the increase in homicides is concentrated in the relatively poor northeastern region of the country. In the richer and more densely populated southeast, youth homicides have actually declined.

At the same conference, Salvatti announced the creation of an interagency government working group that will try to create a strategy for reducing youth violence.

InSight Crime Analysis

Deciphering the numbers can sometimes be tricky. Over the ten-year period between 2002 and 2012, youth homicides only went up by 2.7 percent, suggesting a period of relative stability. However, this masks the huge changes in the murder rates within states.

Security initiatives in major cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro contributed to reductions in homicides, while northeastern states saw murders skyrocket. In the state of Rio Grande del Norte, homicides rose by 293.6 percent over the period.

Some reports attribute the rise in violence in Brazil to the growing role of organized crime and the expansion of the drug trade. According to a 2007 article by Der Spiegel, Brazilian gangs employed children to do their dirty work, sometimes giving them drugs to desensitize them to violence. One 11-year old boy said he “felt nothing” after assassinating a rival gang member because he was “too high.”

Other studies, like a 2012 report by think tank FLACSO, showed that drugs and gangs were not the cause of rising murders. Instead, the increase was caused by a “culture of violence” and widespread impunity. 

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