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Reaching out to Brazil’s most disadvantaged: the plight of indigenous children

© UNICEF Brazil/2005/Cruz
Children practice circus activities during the launch of National Accord World for Children and Adolescents in the Semi-arid. A two-day event gathered children, local and national authorities in Petrolina, in northeastern Brazil.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, 8 April 2005 – Brazil has launched an unprecedented National Accord to improve the lives of some of the country’s most impoverished and excluded children. The initiative, entitled ‘A World for Children and Adolescents’ was launched by government officials, UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations, as well as business leaders. It will focus on providing support for poor children and families living in Brazil’s northeast or “semi-arid” region. The area - roughly the size of Colombia - is home to 11 million children, 75 per cent of whom live in poverty. Issues such as education, nutrition, culture, social and political participation, diversity and human rights top the agenda.

© UNICEF Brazil/2000/Petrillo
Malnutrition affects more than 10% of all boys and girls younger than two years of age in one third of the municipalities in northeastern Brazil.

UNICEF has been very active in encouraging local authorities to give top priority to children and adopt policies that reduce child mortality, child labour and illiteracy among adolescents. UNICEF has also focused its attention specifically on the plight of indigenous children. 

In the municipality of Dourados in southwestern Brazil’s region of Mato Grosso do Sul, 25 indigenous children belonging to the Kaiowá-Guarani tribe have died so far this year. Children under two years old regularly die from preventable diseases; nearly 40 children are currently in hospitals suffering from infections related to malnutrition, and many suffer from anemia. Babies are exclusively breastfed for over six months because families are too poor to feed them. UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg, says the high levels of malnutrition suffered by Brazil’s most impoverished and excluded communities is unacceptable. “Latin America produces more food per person than most other parts of the world, which makes it even more unacceptable for children to be dying of hunger and malnutrition.”

© UNICEF Brazil/2005/Girade
Four-year-old Beatriz from the Kkaiowa tribe lives with her family in Dourados, a small municipality in southwestern Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul region.

Part of the problem lies in the difficult access to safe water and the very poor conditions for food production. The Brazilian government has been making efforts to distribute food and health facilities to these indigenous tribes, but the effort has had mixed results due to a lack of transportation to remote villages and the shortage of special assistants dealing with indigenous communities.

UNICEF is now working on providing these excluded communities with safe water, vitamin A, and is also training health workers. UNICEF’s effort is taking place with the partnership of Funasa, the Ministry of Health division which deals with indigenous communities, as well as the Brazilian Army and local government.




8 April 2005:
UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg, discusses the urgent needs of Brazil’s indigenous children.

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