The Volokh Conspiracy

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Brazilian Anthropologists Say Killing Twin, Disabled, or Transgender Children (Even When Their Parents Object) Ought to Be Tolerated, So Long as the Perpetrators are from One of Those … Er … Unassimilated Indigenous Tribes

And woe to anyone who attempts to inform tribal members that there may be alternatives to their traditional practices.


An article in Foreign Policy, entitled The Right to Kill: Should Brazil Keep Its Amazon Tribes from Taking the Lives of Their Children?, states:

The Kamayurá are among a handful of indigenous peoples in Brazil known to engage in infanticide and the selective killing of older children. Those targeted include the disabled, the children of single mothers, and twins—whom some tribes, including the Kamayurá, see as bad omens. [A Kamayurá man] told me of a 12-year-old boy from his father's generation whom the tribe buried alive because he "wanted to be a woman."

The article goes on to identify the Suruwaha as another such indigenous group. It states that a few years ago, a couple there to study the Suruwaha language took a 5-year-old Suruwaha child who had hypothyroidism (an easily treated condition) to the state capital for medical attention. The child's parents had committed suicide rather than kill their child as the tribe wanted. The tribe's efforts to kill her by burying her alive had failed. When the couple brought the now-treated girl back to her tribe, nobody wanted her, so the couple adopted her themselves. Meanwhile, the public prosecutor had banished them from the Suruwaha territory. The anthropologist's report that undergirded the prosecutor's injunction argued that they were wrongdoers because they had let the Suruwahas know that there are alternatives to their traditional practices. Apparently, if you are unlucky enough to have been born to the Suruwahas, you must be kept in the dark about the alternatives in the outside world.

As of April, the Brazilian legislature was trying to do something about this issue. The Brazilian Association of Anthropology was opposing the proposal, arguing that "the most repressive and lethal actions ever perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of the Americas … were unfailingly justified through appeals to noble causes, humanitarian values and universal principles."

Call me a cultural bigot if you will, but I am so glad to have been born in a community where the city council members figured they'd get in trouble if they starting insisting that I be killed.