Brazilian Men Will Stop Getting Cash After Killing Their Wives

Updated on
  • Murderers have been able to get pensions after partner’s death
  • Brazil is struggling one of world’s highest rates of femicide

Photographer: Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Late one evening in March 2013, Claudenice Josefa Olimpia, a 33 year-old shop assistant in Brazil’s Northeast, was shooting the breeze with neighbors when her husband came home, drunk.

An argument ensued. Shortly afterward, Olimpia lay bloodied and unconscious on the couple’s bed, stabbed repeatedly in the neck. Her husband fled, but the authorities tracked him down, tried him and sentenced him to prison for her murder.

Then they granted him a widower’s pension, worth a little over $200 a month, the minimum wage at the time.

In one of the more grotesque quirks of the Latin American nation’s benefits system, until November last year Brazilians responsible for the deaths of their spouses were eligible for compensation for their loss. In a country grappling with one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, this financial settlement tended to reward men who murdered their wives.

Raquel Dodge

Photographer: Andre Coelho/Bloomberg

To combat what they described as a possible incentive to violence against women, Chief Prosecutor Raquel Dodge and Attorney General Grace Mendonca, two of the most powerful females in a country still led overwhelmingly by men, signed an agreement late last year suspending benefits to the perpetrators of acts of domestic violence resulting in death. It has been applied to at least ten cases so far, according to fresh data sent by the attorney general’s office to Bloomberg.

"These aggressors can’t be rewarded, they must be punished," Mendonca told Bloomberg News last week. "It might seem small, simple, but it has an instructional purpose."

Aggressors who benefited in the past are obliged to return the money received from the state, plus the interest accrued.

In 2016, a woman was murdered every two hours in Brazil, according to a report published by the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, a not-for-profit policy group. A Datafolha poll published in 2017 found that two out of every three Brazilians had witnessed some sort of violence against women. In most of the cases, the victim knew the aggressor.

Still, numbers from the official statistics agency, IBGE, show that just 7.9 percent of Brazilian municipalities have police departments dedicated to helping women.

"The attorney general measure is just the tip of the iceberg," said Leticia Vella, lawyer for the NGO Feminist Health and Sexuality Collective, who argues that machismo and female subordination are deeply entrenched in Brazilian society. "We need to teach in schools, introduce the issue at an early age."

— With assistance by Matthew Malinowski

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