The São Paulo Folha Newspaper tackles Infanticide, and looks at Atini’s work.
Infanticide finished with respect of indigenous traditions. Folha de São Paulo, Sunday, April 06, 2008
ANA PAULA BONI, FROM THE EDITORIAL STAFF
An NGO raises a debate on the right to life; anthropologists condemn the imposition of the law and defend that change happens through dialogue.
In about 20 from more than 200 ethnicities in Brazil, customs mean the death of twins, children of single mothers and children with mental of physical deficiencies"
In the Xingu, Paltu Kamaiurá holds his son, Mayutá, who was saved from certain death that had been destined from his tribe; his twin brother was killed, as their tribe’s tradition ordains
Mayutá is almost two years old Indian and should be dead due to the tradition of his Kamaiurá ethnicity. In the law of his tribe, twins must be killed after being born because they are synonymous to a curse. Paltu Kamaiurá, 37, sent his father, the tribal medicine man, hurriedly to the house of his wife, Yakuiap’s family, upon discovering that she had given birth to twins. But one of them had already been killed by his mother's family.
Paltu was discriminated against by the rest of the tribe, who believed the child would bring a curse upon the village. However, he fought against this through leaving the Xingu reserve (Matto Grosso state), where his people live along with 13 others, many of which practice infanticide.
Last year, he found out about the work of the NGO Atini that combats the practice, through his sister Kamiru, who had dug up Amalé, who had been condemned to death due to being the child of a single mother. Kamiru made contact with the organization in Brasilia, whilst seeking medical treatment for her adopted son.
Paltu asked the NGO for help to raise conscience of Indians from his village. The organization was created in Brasilia about two years ago by the linguists Márcia and Edson Suzuki, who had adopted Hakani, 12, in 2001. Due to malnutrition because of congenital hypothyroidism, that her parents believed to be a curse, Hakani, of the Suruahá ethnicity, had to die. She was saved by her brother.
It is Hakani who gives name to the documentary directed by the director and North American producer David L. Cunningham, that is in is being finalized, and it should be released this month in Brazil and in the United States. Filmed in February in Porto Velho (Rhondônia State) with the support of Atini, the video shows Hakani’s story and testimonies against infanticide, voiced by the Indians.
Still practiced by about 20 from more than 200 ethnicities in the country, that tribal principle leads to the death of not just twins, but also children of single mothers, children with mental or physical problems, or a disease not identified by the tribe.
The documentary talks about the draft law that treats "combating the traditional practices that attempt against life", which has been in the legal channels in Congress since last May. The Muwaji Law, as it is called in honor of the Indian who confronted her tribe to save her daughter with cerebral paralysis (the event that inspired the creation of Atini), establishes that "anybody" that knows of a child who is in a situation of risk and doesn’t inform the proper authorities will answer for the crime of omission of aid. The sentence being from one to six months in jail or a fine.
The proposal is a controversial one between Indians and non-Indians. There are those who argue that infanticide is a part of the indigenous culture. Others affirm that the right to the life, due to the 5th article of the Constitution which is above all.
"We live subject to a legal mandate and the law says that the right to life is more important than culture", says Maíra Barreto, with a doctorate in human rights from the University of Salamanca (Spain), whose thesis was on infanticide among indigenous people.
For her, one of the Atini council members, there is a contradiction in the fact that Brazil is a signature country of international treaties which condemn traditions which are harmful to a child’s well-being, yet does nothing to prevent them in the case of the Indians.
In 2004, the Brazilian government declared, through presidential ordinance, Convention 169 of ILO (International Labor Association), that determines that indigenous and tribal people should be entitled to conserve their customs and own institutions, as long as they are not incompatible with the defined fundamental rights under the national judicial system nor with the internationally recognized human rights."
Before this, in 1990, Brazil had already constituted the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes "that every child is entitled to life" and that the signatory countries must adopt "all the effective and appropriate measures” to abolish practices that are harmful to a child's health and well-being.
Anthropologist Ricardo Verdum, of INESC (Institute of Socioeconomic Studies), finds the draft law to be interfering in the free will of the Indians. "To want to impose a law is aggressive, it is violence."
Anthropologist Bruce Albert, of CCPY (of the Pro-Yanomami Commission), says that, for the Yanomamis, "only children who had a chance at growing up healthily were kept."
Missionary Saulo Ferreira Feitosa, assistant secretary of CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Commission), sees conflict in the debate between universal ethics and a community's morals. "Nobody is in favor of infanticide. Now, as long as cultural customs are morally accepted, they cannot be combated through intervention."
For Márcia Suzuki, director of Atini, the debate that the project started brings to the surface the subject of the public health of these people.
Former FUNAI president affirms that he suffered a "dilemma'
The anthropologist Mércio Pereira Gomes, who was president of FUNAI (National Foundation of the Indian) during the first four years of Lula’s government, admits that he suffered "a very big dilemma” in the department on the subject of infanticide. As a citizen, he is against the practice, but as an anthropologist and president of the department, he is against intervention.
According to him, there are between five to ten deaths due to infanticide in Brazil per year. To make indigenous politics more efficient, Gomes affirms that the area of health, which is with FUNASA today, should return to FUNAI, as it was in 1999.
For the tribes, he explains, the Indian only considers a human being as a person when he is received by the community. "When infanticide is practiced, from the cultural and not biological point of view, the human being is not considered as complete. Anthropology analyzes things this way. Using this cultural logic, it is not an inhumanity."
According to him, FUNAI doesn't "take a stand" on infanticide, but it looks to intervene in some cases. "There is a search for solutions, such as adoption." He is incredulous in relation to the effects of a law. "Only a FUNAI capable of dialogue will be able to do this."
Number of child deaths is ignored
The number of Indians who die by infanticide in Brazil is unknown. In FUNASA’s (National Foundation of Health) data in regards to indigenous infant mortality, it is only shown added to the deaths caused by "lesions, poisoning and other consequences of external causes."
This group answers for 0.4% of the total of up to one year old infant deaths, according to the last available data from FUNASA from 2006. During that year, there were 665 indigenous infant mortality deaths in the country.
The department’s explanation for this lack of data on deaths by infanticide is due to the way that identification is still done. 34 DSEIS (Special District Health Officers) scattered throughout the country are responsible for counting the deaths and reviewing them for the FUNASA headquarters in order to assist about 460 thousand Indians.
Wanderley Guenka, director for eight months of the FUNASA Department of Indigenous Health, adds that a lot of times the problem is before the counting of the data, when it is not possible to identify that there was infanticide. The problem increases with the greater difficulty to access the village and have regular contact with the Indians.
"In the Mato Grosso do Sul state, it is easy to monitor the Indians right from their birth. They are closer to the urban centers. In the Amazon state, to get to the Yanomamis, you have to travel by air or boat", says Guenka.
In agreement with the department, a policy of investigation of the deaths is being implanted so that, with more details from the DSEIS, FUNASA will be able to better identify the cause of death.
For Márcia Suzuki, from the NGO Atini, a way to reduce cases of infanticide would be the implementation of prenatal care in the villages, mainly in those where twins are rejected. "These people are entitled to know, for instance, that there exists the possibility of treatment or surgery to solve certain congenital problems."
The hygiene doctor, Douglas Rodrigues, who has worked for more than 20 years in the Xingu Project of the UNIFESP (Federal University of São Paulo), he says that the lack of infrastructure is a difficulty. "Portable Ultrasound already exists, but we don't have it. We ask for it, the Ministry of Health doesn't send it, over and over. Ultrasound machines are not available in the Xingu Reserve nor in any other places."
Rodrigues adds, however, that is not only the lack of infrastructure that impedes the work of health professionals. "We can’t accompany the time of birth unless the Indian informs us. If they don’t inform us, then when we go there, sometimes the child has already died."