Brazil's Black Domestic Workers Fight for Change after Boy’s Death

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[Mirtes Renata Santana de Souza\Miguel]
Time: "On July 14 Pernambuco’s public prosecutor announced he was charging Corte with “abandonment of a vulnerable person resulting in death”—a crime punishable by 4 to 12 years in prison."
Photo: Twitter

Mirtes Renata Santana de Souza brought her 5-year-old son Miguel

On June 2, with schools in the northern Brazilian state of Pernambuco closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mirtes Renata Santana de Souza brought her 5-year-old son Miguel to work with her.

Santana, 33, and her 60-year-old mother Marta both worked as maids for a wealthy white family: Sérgio Hacker, the mayor of the small town near the city of Recife, his wife Sarí Corte Real and their two children. The family were living on the fifth floor of a luxury tower block overlooking Recife’s seafront.

Around lunchtime, Santana went out to walk the family’s dog. While a manicurist was doing Corte’s nails, Miguel said he wanted to find his mother. He kept running into the building’s elevators and Corte kept making him get out. But eventually, she let the 5-year-old get in the elevator alone, and, according to CCTV footage, appeared to press the button for the tower’s top floor before the doors closed. (Corte maintains she only mimed touching the button and that it did not light up as it would have if activated). Miguel got out on the ninth floor. He then fell from a balcony, 114 feet, onto the ground outside the lobby where his mother and a building caretaker found him moments later. He died soon after arriving in hospital.

The tragedy has become a sensation in Brazil over the last month, as media outlets have breathlessly reported each twist and turn, from the details of the state police investigation, to emotional interviews with both Santana and Corte. After newspapers published an open letter from Corte asking Santana for forgiveness, Santana responded that it was “inhumane” to make such a request. “We know that she wouldn’t treat a friend’s son like that,” she wrote. “She acted like this with my son, as if he had less value, as if he could suffer any kind of violence for being ‘the maid’s son.’”

On July 14 Pernambuco’s public prosecutor announced he was charging Corte with “abandonment of a vulnerable person resulting in death”—a crime punishable by 4 to 12 years in prison. An aggravating factor in the case for the prosecutor, and for public anger, is that it happened during the pandemic. Santana was not meant to be working on the day her son died because state officials in Pernambuco had not declared domestic work—apart from caring for elderly or disabled people—as “essential” during its COVID-19 lockdown.

The case has become a lightning rod for anger about a wider form of social injustice in Brazil. It is still common for Brazil’s middle and upper-class families to employ a full-time maid. The South American country has one of the world’s largest populations of domestic workers—more than 6.3 million, according to government figures from late 2019. Some 95% are women and more than 63% are Black, like Santana. Historians say this structure is a direct inheritance from slavery, which Brazil abolished in 1888—the last country in the Americas to do so.

Read the rest of this Time story here: https://time.com/5867784/black-domestic-workers-treatment-brazil/

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