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Precarious houses in the favela of Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil has the ninth largest economy in the world and the largest in Latin America.[1] It is a country of extremes, with outstanding cultural, social and ecological diversity. Modern industry and commerce has flourished alongside with tremendous inequality, currently, one of the most serious challenges for the country today. Despite the rich natural resources, rapid economic development, and the overall size of Brazil’s economy, the nation has major problems with poverty, hunger, disease, and inadequate public services.

Brazilian society displays giant gaps between the city and the countryside, between regions, and between social classes. The income difference between rich and poor is among the most substantial in the world. As a result, Brazil has amongst the highest income inequality in the world, ranking 56.7 in the Gini coefficient index[2] — with the richest 10% of Brazilians receiving 50% of the nation’s income, while the poorest 10% receive less than 1%. Basic citizen rights, taken for granted in the developed world, are scarce in Brazil. Education, health, safety are deficient. However, several governments have been tackling those issues and the country is slowly improving several social related figures. Also, in the recent years, there has been a more pressure from the Brazilian society to attach more importance to social issues.



Poor people doing garbage collection for a living in Recife.

Poverty in Brazil is most visually represented by the various favelas, slums in the country's metropolitan areas and remote upcountry regions that suffer with economic underdevelopment and below-par standards of living. An attempt to mitigate these problems is the "Fome Zero" hunger-eradication program implemented by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003. Part of this is "Bolsa Família",[3] a major anti-poverty program that gives money directly to impoverished families so as to keep their children in school.

Lula's government reduced 19.8% the rate of misery based on labour income during June 2002 and June 2006 according to Fundação Getúlio Vargas. In June 2006 the rate of misery is 18.57% of the population.[4]

The rate of poverty is in part attributed to the country's economic inequality. Brazil ranks among the world's highest nations in the Gini coefficient index of inequality assessment.

A woman breastfeeding in a favela in Natal.

A study on the subject [5] shows that the poor segment constitutes roughly one third of the population, and the extremely poor make out 13% (2005 figures). However, the same study shows the income growth of the poorest 20% population segment to be almost in par with China, while the richest 10% are stagnating.

Crime in Brazil

Brazil has serious problems with crime especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. With roughly 23.8 homicides per 100,000 residents,[6] muggings, robberies, kidnappings[7] and gang violence[8] are common. Police brutality and corruption are widespread.[9][10] In response, the Brazilian government established the National Public Security Force (FNSP)in June 2004 by the Ministry of Justice, to act in situations of emergency, in times of crisis.


Public education in Brazil is free at all levels.[11] Primary education is compulsory as per the article 208 of the Brazilian Constitution.

Most Primary schools are constitutionally maintained either by municipalities or the states. Both entities are obliged to apply at least 25% of their budgets in education. Since economic disparities exist between states, richer states and cities have more money to deliver quality education, whereas in the poorer cities and States the education will be generally of lower standards.

School non-attendance by absence and malnutrition is one of the biggest educational problems in Brazil. Work under the age of 16 is forbidden by law, however Brazil has many cases of child labor. Children from large poor families start working from the age of 10 in order to help their parents, despite the law of compulsory education between the ages of 10 and 14. Other reasons for school non-attendance are the lack of sufficient school places and the high examination failure rate. Malnutrition also materially affects the intellectual development of children, giving them little chance of adapting to an educational environment.

The standards of primary and secondary public education have been falling over the past decades. Since the country invested little in education, public education's standards dropped and the middle class moved their children to private schools. Nowadays, practically all the middle class sends their children to private schools. Costs may vary from as little as R$ 600 (US$ 240) p.a. in smaller cities to R$ 30,000 (US$ 17,000) p.a.[12]in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.

The situation has been improving over the past few years thanks to two official projects: Bolsa Escola, by which parents who keep their children in school and with good health receive a small allowance, and FUNDEF, by which municipalities receive federal funds in accordance to the number of children enrolled. Bolsa Escola was a conditional cash transfer (CCT) program that offered mothers in poor households a monthly stipend if their children ages 6 to 15 attended school on a regular basis. The program was implemented across all of Brazil between the years 2001 and 2003, until it was folded into the broader Bolsa Familia program.

Brazil is participating of the One Laptop Per Child project[13], aiming at providing low cost laptops to poor children in developing countries, but the program is moving slowly.

Table 1. Infant Mortality Rates by Regions of Brazil (per 1,000 live births)

Regions 1970 1980 1991 2000
North 180.07 135.12 48.93 41.14
Northeast 111.71 71.01 74.35 64.25
Southeast 97.34 61.08 34.42 27.46
South 80.95 51.69 28.93 23.59
Center West 92.22 59.59 38.60 31.00
Brazil 123.55 85.30 49.45 34.08

Source: Fundação IBGE, Census of Population, 1991 and 2000.

See also


  1. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - Rank Order - GDP (purchasing power parity)
  2. ^ Gini index =
  3. ^ World Bank website, The Nuts and Bolts of Brazil’s Bolsa Família Program: Implementing Conditional Cash Transfers in a Decentralized Context, IBRD 2007 paper, retrieved June 8, 2007
  4. ^ Fundação Getúlio Vargas. FGV - Gráfico da Miséria. Retrieved 2007-06-12.  
  5. ^ Ricardo Paes de Barros, Mirela de Carvalho, Samuel Franco, Rosane Mendonça: A Importância da Queda Recente da Desigualdade para a Pobreza [[1]]
  6. ^ "No end of Violence". April 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-18.  
  7. ^ BBC News "Brazil's evolving kidnap culture" retrieved 2007-08-24
  8. ^ BBC News "Gang violence grips Brazil state" retrieved 2007-08-22
  9. ^ Human Rights Report "Police brutality in urban Brazil" retrieved 2007-08-24
  10. ^ Amnesty International "Violence in Brazil" retrieved 2007-08-24
  11. ^ Schools and Education in Brazil
  12. ^ Folha Online
  13. ^


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