Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Girl survived Brazil tribe's custom of live baby burial

The story of Hakani has gained international media attention in the past few weeks. Hakani was born in 1995 with a growth deficiency. Her parents were ordered by tribe leaders to poison her because of this. The Suruwah√° tribe believes, as is common in many tribes in the Amazon, that a child born with a deformity has no soul and should therefore be killed. The child is to be buried alive, suffocated with leaves, poisoned, or simply abandoned in the jungle. Hakani’s parents were unable to poison their child and committed suicide, as did Hakani’s grandfather when told to complete the task. Hakani was left to die in the jungle, and if it weren’t for a brother that smuggled food to her, she would have. Brazilian missionary couple Marcia and Edson Suzuki petitioned the government to allow them to remove Hakani from the tribe and finally their wish was granted. Hakani is receiving medical treatment for a thyroid condition and is currently attending school.

It is not known how many children die a year in this way, as Brazilian authorities often record these deaths as malnutrition cases out of respect for these cultures. It is an argument of cultural relativism— is it a question of murder or the preservation of a culture? Anthropologists argue that abolishing this practice would be in some way a threat to these tribes’ cultures. Human rights groups argue that this is not only a violation of human rights, but that it is simply not logical as this practice actually expedites the extinction of these tribes. I agree with the human rights groups on this issue. Many of these children have problems that are very treatable and instead of looking at this issue as an issue of whether or not we should further isolate these cultures from our civilization, we need to work of getting them access to basic health care. This practice is cruel and has led to a high suicide rate among parents who are not willing to kill their own children. The Brazilian government is currently deciding on “Muwaji’s Law,” a bill that would outlaw infanticide. It might not stop the authorities that falsify the death records, but it would spark a debate, as it already has, about the morality of this issue.

9 comments:

aditi said...

The killing of a child because of a birth defect. Does this sound similar to the killings by the Nazis of people with defects as they might compromise the purity of the perfect Aryan race? True the Nazis killed due to their notion of being superior whereas the tribes kill because they believe the baby has no soul. But in both cases are they not deeming the individual inferior due to their physical deformities? I know comparing a cultural norm to the Holocaust might be highly controversial and even suggesting that these tribes are comparable to the Nazis could be a great error on my part. However, though in a smaller sense, the basic idea underlying the deaths is the same. In India, many hundreds of years ago, the practice of Sati (the burning alive of a woman on the funeral pyre of her recently deceased husband) was commonly practiced throughout the country. Not engaging it in was unheard of. It was a tradition and no one questioned its purity. However, the fact that no one did did not make it any less wrong. The practice was eventually abolished, but not before thousands of women had died in agony. Must we really wait for the number of deaths to reach such high numbers before we realize that diplomacy aside this is just plain inhuman?

Kyle said...

I agree with Aditi, this tribal ritual is a monstrosity and is a major violation of human rights. Some may argue that he Brazilian tribe has the right to practice this act because it is a part of their local belief system. However, what they are doing is not a mere ritual. They are killing infants which is an abominable crime and is definitely not protected under the Universal Declaration as a nation's right to practice its own belief system. Something must be done about this so these horrific murders now so that it is not another human rights abuse that is not stopped and becomes another event that people will look upon in a hundred years and wonder why it was not stopped.

Abby said...

Infanticide cannot be considered permissible on the basis of cultural relativism. Firstly, cultural relativism contains too many flaws. I could argue that it is the moral practice of my own culture to preserve the lives of all human beings. Would it not then be morally permissible for me to interfere in the case of infanticide? Additionally, I agree with Kyle. This practice clearly opposes the rights of children enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights have been recognized on a universal scale, and therefore cannot be denied on the basis of cultural traditions.

Defining the practices of other cultures as “immoral” is at times unjust. I think that the West often does impose its values on other cultures without stopping to think about problems that exist within its own cultural bubble. It is difficult to question what is familiar and what has been deemed acceptable for years. However, identifying the practice of another culture as “immoral” is not always disrespectful or unjust. Sometimes it is necessary in order for humanity to undergo evolution in the sense of morality. I recognize that many practices and traditions that were deeply embedded in the social, political, and economic life of the United States have since been abolished. For example, women were once confined to a domestic sphere. Their inferior role was interwoven in everyday life; however, the unjust nature of this was identified and the role of women in American society has since evolved.

I think that the issue of infanticide within the Suruwah√° tribe must be addressed, and I agree that Mujawi’s Law would effectively spark a necessary debate. I also agree that medical care should be made available in such tribal communities. I believe that access to such care would further enable this practice to die out.

Overall, I believe that in order to evolve as a people, we must be willing to overlook the comfort we find in the familiarity of our individual cultural practices. We must be willing to step outside of our comfort zone and see if changes are necessary for the sake of moral progression.

Adrian said...

This is a difficult issue to consider. These communities have lived for hundreds of years. Their traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. One must consider the reasons for killing deformed or sickly babies. Such infants are likely to require more care. They may become a burden to their families. In order to survive in the harsh conditions of the Amazon Jungle, a degree of balance must be maintained. Some communities see these infants as a type of imbalance and therefore they discard them. The same occurs in Eskimo groups. The elderly that become sick and too weak to take care of themselves are left alone in the devastating conditions of the Arctic. Survival is crucial in these worlds.

I am not agreeing with what goes on, I am simply considering the rationale behind the conducting of these acts. These people have little or no notion of Human Rights. All they know is survival.

yanks23 said...

Under no circumstances should a child be killed just because they contain a birth defect, that is just wrong. Cultures do have a right to practice their own beliefs, but when it involves the murdering of innocent children then there is a problem. Something like this easily violates the Declartion of Human rights, and should not be allowed. Adrian is right that traditions are passed down from family to family, but does that mean all traditions must always be followed? If the child is playing such a burdon on their tribe why not bring them to another tribe or family instead of just killing it. Children with defects have as much equal rights as anyone else.

MadMax said...

I’m wondering how many of you who are against the cultural custom of killing deformed babies support the rights of women to abort their potential children.

I’m guessing that if you do support abortion and yet abhor this custom you do so
because you believe a fetus is not yet a person. But even if a fetus is not a person, is it not in some sense alive? And shouldn't any form of human life be worthy of at least some moral weight in a decision about its own life or death?

andrew said...

First let me say that I agree with the idea that this custom needs to end. However, what all of you are failing to acknowledge is that this custom cannot simply be abolished, like many terrible violations of women’s rights, because it does not deal with inferiority but rather the lack of a soul. This custom must have historic and cultural roots, wherein, deformed babies could not be cared for and there for were discarded, but today we have the medical technology to treat and cure many of these deformities. Therefore, I disagree with Muwaji’s Law because a progressive approach is required. If these people could see that girls like Hakani do possess a soul, it would encourage a change that has all ready begun, as demonstrated by Hakani’s parents who refused to kill her. Western culture has a tendency to impose itself on other cultures and expect them to understand immediately concepts that we have spent hundreds of years refining. Maybe all these people need is time.

Anonymous said...

Time is not what they need, how many more children will die if we give them a few years to understand this is wrong. It is apparent that some tribe members do see this as wrong, and are not willing to kill their own children. I do agree that the tribe should be shown that in many cases, medical intervention can help these children. i think this would enlighten them to seek help outside of the tribe when a child is born with deformity and disability. I, also, am curious how many women think this is a horrific crime and immoral act against humanity but agree with abortion.

Matt Survival International said...

The film was faked – and even the missionaries who produced it ‘admit there is no way to verify what they say happened’.

The film and its message are harmful. They focus on what they claim happens routinely in Indian communities, but it doesn’t. It incites feelings of hatred against Indians.

Find out more:
http://www.survivalinternational.org/about/hakani