April 26, 2002

Brazil child servants fight racial, sexual abuse

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) --Leading rights groups on Friday called for a clampdown
on the "cruel violation" of children's rights in Brazil, where nearly half a million domestic
child servants face sexual and racial abuse and often live in slave-like conditions.

The groups, including the International Labor Organization and the United Nations
Children's Fund, said it was difficult to tackle the abuses due to widespread
acceptance of the practices, especially in Brazil's poor northeast.

"The idea is that you are lucky being part of a family. But these girls get abused
physically and sexually. It is impossible that things haven't changed in 100 years,"
said Creusa Maria Oliveira, president of the Brazilian Federation of Domestic
Workers. Oliveira herself started working as a child servant when she was 10.

"It is high time that attention is given to this absolutely cruel violation of children's
human rights," said Branca Moreira Alves, head of the United Nations Development
Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Brazil.

The ILO's director in Brazil, Armand Pereira, presented a study showing that of
Brazil's estimated 502,000 domestic child workers, some are just five years old
when they start. An estimated 44 percent are aged 12-15 and a further 54 percent
are aged 16 or 17.

Most of them are paid less than $40 a month, if at all.

The groups said the mainly, black girls sent to work as domestic servants often have
no choice because they come from poor families that cannot afford to keep them.
This has created the idea that keeping a child servant is a good thing, because it
gives them a roof over their head and they are fed.

"The families who do this think they are doing the girls a favor," said Reiko Niimi,
head of UNICEF in Brazil.

While Brazil's legal working age is 16, the groups said the rising numbers of
domestic child servants of that age was alarming. Their lack of education meant they
remained trapped in domestic work, perpetuating the poverty they are trying to leave

The groups said the children face a whole range of human rights abuses, from labor
abuse to sexual abuse and racism.

More than half Brazil's child servants are Afro-Brazilians, generally from the poor
rural, north-east, harking back to Brazil's dark past of slavery. Brazil imported more
African slaves than any other country and was the last nation in the Americas to
abolish slavery, in 1888.

While the groups slammed the abuse of domestic child workers, they acknowledged
that Brazil is making good progress in eradicating child labor in general. In 1998
there were an estimated 7.7 million children working, down from 8.5 million in

One program -- a monthly cash payment to poor parents who ensure their children
attend school -- launched a few years ago has proved particularly successful
because it addresses the poverty driving the need to send young children to work.

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