Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Social issues in Brazil

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Social issues in Brazil

Brazil ranks 49.3 in the Gini coefficient index, with the richest 10% of Brazilians receiving 42.7% of the nation's income, while the poorest 34% receive less than 1.2%.


The Human Development Index of Municipalities dramatically improved in Brazil during the last two decades. According to PNUD, in 1991, 99.2% of the municipalities had a low/very low HDI; but this number has fallen to 25.2% in 2010. On the other hand, the number of municipalities with high/very high HDI jumped from 0% in 1991 to 34,7% in 2010. In 2012, the Brazilian HDI was 0.730, ranking in 83rd and considered high.


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" program launched by then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003. Part of this is "Bolsa Família", a cash transfer program that gives money to impoverished families under the condition that they keep their kids vaccinated and in school.

The Lula administration (2003–2011) reduced 9.8% the rate of poverty based on labor income during June 2002 and June 2006 according to Fundação Getúlio Vargas. In June 2006, the rate of extreme poverty was 18.57% of the population.

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 study on the subject 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.


Brazil may achieve social indicators similar to those of developed countries by 2016 if the country is able to maintain the same rate of reduction of extreme poverty and income inequality as recorded over the 2003 to 2008 period. As well, the country may record an absolute poverty rate of 4%. The data, was taken from a document issued by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea), linked to the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Republic. People are considered extremely poor who earn up to 25% of one minimum wage per month, whereas the absolutely poor earn up to 50% of one minimum wage per month.

"If we make a projection of the best performances recently recorded in Brazil in terms of poverty and inequality reduction (2003-2008 period) to the year of 2016, the result would be a very positive social outlook. Brazil may virtually overcome the problem of extreme poverty, as well as attain a national absolute poverty rate of only 4%, which means its near-eradication," the document states. According to the document, the majority of the progress achieved by Brazil in fighting poverty and inequality is either directly or indirectly related to the structuring of public policies of social intervention, provided for in the Federal Constitution of 1988. The Ipea also points out three other decisive factors to fighting poverty and inequality: increased social spending in the country, which went from 19% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1990 to 21.9% of the GDP in 2005; decentralization of social policy, with an extended role played by municipalities in the implementation of social policies, as their share of social spending rose 53.8% from 1980 to 2008; and social participation in the formatting and management of social policies. According to the institute, institutional consolidation of the framework of social laws in Brazil would be an important step towards maintaining, in coming years, the fight against poverty and inequality in the country.

"It is important that a new law be passed regulating social responsibility and commitment, with goals, funds, timetables and coordination, so that Brazil may achieve social indicators similar to those currently seen in developed countries. All of that must obviously take place with no backlashes in terms of participation of society in the formatting, monitoring and control of public policies," states the document.

The Brazilian federal government has also implemented and expanded in the last years major subsidy programs, such as Bolsa Família and Fome Zero, for families deemed to be in need of assistance.

Crime in Brazil

Brazil has serious problems with crime. With roughly 23.8 homicides per 100,000 residents, muggings, robberies, kidnappings and gang violence are common. Police brutality and corruption are widespread. 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. 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. 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 Família program.

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

Infant mortality

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

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


Rapid urbanisation and population growth have caused many problems in developing cities. As cities grow too rapidly, resources are not able to keep up with the swelling population. Housing is one of the major problems many developing cities are facing today. Migrants who cannot afford proper housing are forced to build temporary housing without proper utilities. These settlements are known as favelas. With a population of 12.7 million people, Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil. With a combination of push and pull factors, urban migration to Rio account for over 65% of population growth. This has led to a serious shortage of proper housing.

Brazil’s housing deficit is around 7 million units. “Housing deficit” here refers to the number of shelters which do not have adequate conditions to be habitable, plus the number of housing units that need to be built to shelter all families who currently lack one and, as a result, share a shelter with another household in over crowded conditions.

Many city dwellers build their own houses in shanty towns with scrap materials such as iron sheets and wood. Basic sanitation, water, electricity and sewage system may not be available leading to a spread of diseases. Such units are also overpopulated and located in areas not fit for residential use (such as flood zones, areas subject to land slides, public rights-of-ways, etc.) and need to be replaced or evicted. The favelas are not built according to any laws or safety regulations and residents are constantly at risk of being killed in land slides or fires.

As it stands, it has been identified that 84% of the housing deficit in Brazil is concentrated on families earning less than three times the minimum wage (a minimum wage is around $360 per month). Caught in the poverty cycle, families’ incomes are structurally limited and as a result they are unable afford proper housing.

An example of one such favela in Brazil is Rocinha. Rocinha is one of the largest favelas in Brazil. Located in the southern area of Rio de Janeiro, it is built on a steep hillside overlooking the city. Although official data is hard to obtain, it is believed that over 150,000 people reside there.

This rapid rate of illegal occupation of urban land has led to serious problems not only to the residents, but also to the society and the natural environment of the city.


Social issues in Brazil Wikipedia