12 December 2016

Update: the amendment was passed by Brazil's Senate on the 13 December.

In a statement issued by the United Nations, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, has warned that the Brazil government’s proposal to amend the country’s constitution, thereby freezing pubic spending over the next 20 years, is ‘entirely incompatible with the country’s human rights obligations’.

The proposed amendment, known at PEC55, is ostensibly an attempt to demonstrate fiscal prudence in the face of Brazil’s ever deepening economic recession and shrinking economy. However, if passed, the measures, which are intended to boost investor confidence and stimulate growth, will have a profound effect on public sector spending, including on education. And it is feared the impact of these spending cuts will be felt most severely by the poorest and most vulnerable sections of Brazil’s society.

Mr Alston stated that the amendment would be a clear breach of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, ratified by Brazil in 1992, which requires States Parties avoid taking deliberately ‘retrogressive measures’. The changes to Brazil’s constitution would also consitute a clear contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Brazil in 1990. 

UNESCO figures for 2014 show that, with over 347,000 girls and 444,000 boys of primary school age not in education, Brazil is already falling short of its minimum core obligation to ensure free and compulsory primary education for all. The current national expenditure on education is R$37 billion (US$11 billion), however the planned public spending freeze would see that cut by some R$47 billion (US$14 billion) over the next 8 years. These cuts to future education funding are also likely to impact negatively on the provision and availability of education at all other levelrs, thereby arguably worsening the situation rather than seeing the progressive realisation of the right to education. 

Read the full UN statement here.