Many people in the international community consider Brazil a country free of extremist offenses. However, the number of people who denounced religious intolerance, especially in Rio de Janeiro, reached a number never seen before: 79 occurrences in 2016. Cases of religious intolerance denounced to the Human Rights Department, through the number 100, increased 119%. People from African Religions have been the common target as well as their religious centres.
Concerned with this situation, the local government decided to offer psychological assistance to the victims of religious intolerance. The Office of Human Rights and Politics for Woman and Elderly of Rio de Janeiro state (SEDHMI) is in charge of this work, which was developed to contact the victims, make a first evaluation of the case and send them to the closest public health unity that will give them the appropriate treatment.
The secretary of SEDHMI, Átila Nunes, explains some measures that have been adopted to raise awareness on the importance of the respectful treatment to people from different religions as an attempt to reduce the number of victims of religious intolerance:
Our goal is to make the victims recover from what they went through and also work with the Education Department to raise social awareness on religious intolerance and the Police to prevent other cases from happening and punish those involved in cases that already happened
In partnership with the Department for Education, there is also a process in progress to make educational videos, highlighting the respect to all religions, which will be displayed in classes until the end of 2018. This strategy has been motivated due to some cases of religious intolerance registered among children and teenagers, frequently during classes. It happened to Kethelyn Coelho.
Kethelyn is a fifteen year old girl who suffered bullying because of her religion, the Brazilian candomble – an African religion that was brought to Brazil with the slaves. In August of this year, the school called her father, Leandro Coelho, because the girl was crying a lot due to her classmates calling her a fat “macumbeira” – a Brazilian pejorative word, making noises on their tables imitating one of the practices of her religion that consists of playing an instrument during the religious ceremony.
It was not the first time Kethelyn suffered this kind of offense. His father told us she never thought Kethelyn was suffering this kif of offense because she was afraid of reporting this to him:
She was so unhappy and feeling bad about herself that she considered suicide. I think this is such an extreme thought and it makes us think about how mean and intolerant people can be
According to Leandro, she only received a call from the school and nothing else was done in order to stop the offenses. Hence, Leandro decided to tell the story of Kethelyn to a newspaper and the community became aware of the situation. Last month, the SEDHMI contacted him and offered psychological support to his daughter. She was, then, sent to a public hospital to start therapy.
Now, the girl is considering to study in other school so that she can have a fresh start, hopefully in a better environment, as her therapist suggested.
Besides working in partnership with the Department for Education, SEDHMI has also started to work with the Police Department, reporting to them the cases of religious intolerance. SEDHMI is also studying set up a plan to tackle religious intolerance in the regions with high number of occurrences and, in the future, the Office of Human Rights and Politics for Woman and Elderly of Rio de Janeiro state also intends to develop a specific classification of the types of religious offense, which will allow authorities to act more effectively towards victims support and the prevention of new cases.
For more information, access the website of SEDHMI: http://www.rj.gov.br/web/sedhmi/exibeconteudo?article-id=3568823
By Ingrid Mariz