Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Summary: Death Without Weeping; Has poverty ravaged mother love in the shantytowns of Brazil? (Zahrani B.)

The Alto do Cruzeiro is one of three shantytowns surrounding the large market town of Bom Jesus in the sugar plantation zone of Pernambuco in Northeast Brazil, one of the many zones of neglect that have emerged in the shadow of tarnished economic miracle of Brazil. For the women and children of the Alto do Cruzeiro the only miracle is that some of them have managed to stay alive at all.
The Northeast is a region of the vast proportions (approximately twice the size of Texas) and of equally vast social and development problems. The nine states that make up the region are the poorest in the country and are representative of the Third World within a dynamic and rapidly industrializing nation.
Life expctan in the Northet is ony forty years, largely because of apallingly hugh rate of infant and child mortality. Approximately one million children Brazil under the age of five die each year. The children of the Northeast, especially those born in shantytowns on the periphery of urban life, are at a very high risk of death. In these areas, children are born without the traditional protection of breast feeding, subsistence gardens, stable marriages, and multiple adult caretakers that exist in the interior. In the hillside shantytowns that spring up around cities or, in this case, interior market towns, marriage are brittle, single parenting is norm, and women are frequently forced into the shadow economy of domestic work in the hornes of the rich or into unprotected and oftentimes "scab" wage labor on the surrounding sugar plantations, where they clear land for planting and weed for pittance, sometimes less than a dollar a day The women of the Alto may not bring their babies  with them into the homes of wealthy, where the often-sic infants are considered sources of contaminations, and they cannot carry the little one to the riverbanks where they wash clothes because the river isheavily infested iwth schistosomes and other deadly parasites. Nor can theuy carry their young cildren to the plantation, which are often several miles away. At wages of a dollar a day, the women of  The Alto cannot hire babysitters. Older children who are not in school will sometimes serve as somewhat indifferen caretakers But any child not in school is also expected to find wage work. In most cases babies are simply left at home alone, the door securely fastened . And so many also die alone and unattended.
More than 350 babies died in The Alto during 1965 alone--this form a shantytowns population of little more than 5,000. But that was not something surprised. There were reasons enough for the deaths in the miserable conditions of shantytown life. Something that was puzzled was the seeming indefference of Alto women to the death of their infants, and their willingness to attribute to their own tiny offspring an aversion to life that  made their death seems wholly natural, indeed all but anticipated.


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