UN experts today urged Brazil’s new government to axe a ‘parental alienation’ law that can lead to discrimination against women and girls, particularly in family court custody battles. Following the conclusion of the country’s presidential elections, the human rights experts issued the following statement:
“Today we call on the newly elected Government of Brazil to strengthen its resolve to end violence against women and girls, and we call for the end of the legal long-standing application of the concept of parental alienation and similar variations in cases of domestic violence and abuse, which penalise mothers and children in Brazil.
Brazil’s 2010 law on parental alienation defines the concept as “the interference in the psychological development of the child or adolescent promoted or induced by one of the parents, by the grandparents or by those who have the child or adolescent under their authority, custody or supervision in order to refute a parent or harm the establishment or maintenance of links with the parent”.
The law has led to the proliferation of the application of the parental alienation theory by family courts – despite the lack of clinical or scientific legitimacy. The law has also largely enabled fathers accused of domestic violence and abuse to successfully levy false allegations against the mothers with whom they are in custody battles or disputes.
Family courts regularly dismiss allegations of sexual abuse of the children brought forward by the mothers against their fathers or stepfathers, disbelieving and punishing mothers, including through the loss of custody rights to their children.
We are gravely concerned about the underlying gendered stereotypes that contribute to the legitimation of the concept of parental alienation and its resort mainly against women when the court decision regards the right to custody or guardianship. Such gendered stereotypes are profoundly discriminatory, as the testimonies of women who claim their children are abused are being dismissed or considered of inferior value and credibility. These profoundly discriminatory approaches essentially result in a miscarriage of justice and the continued exposure of mother and child to abuse, life threatening situations and other violations of their fundamental freedoms.
We note with concern the disturbing consequences for mothers, many of whom have had no option but to remain silent regarding the abuse of their children by their partner or former partner, out of fear of being accused of parental alienation and loosing custody rights.
The use of parental alienation and similar concepts contributes to the banalisation of violence against women and girls in Brazil, where a high level of domestic violence against children, in particular girls, takes place against the backdrop of a continued high level of femicide for the past decade.
Brazil has one of the highest indices of femicide in the world. In a 2017 nationwide survey, approximately one-third of Brazilian girls and women expressed that they had suffered violence in the previous year ranging from threats and beatings to attempted murder. More than half of the attackers were current or former partners. A survey of crime statistics in 2021 reveals that one woman is raped every 10 minutes in Brazil and that a femicide happens every seven hours. High levels of violence against women are also perpetuated by other non-state actors, including private businesses and state-affiliated institutions, including law enforcement. It is crucial that the Government of Brazil spares no effort to stem the tide of violence against its women and girls and end the rampant impunity that has existed for crimes committed against them.
We urge the Brazilian state to repeal the law on parental alienation and to reinstate an effective access of women and girls to sexual and reproductive rights; to offer effective legal access to terminating pregnancies; to reverse the series of cuts in the federal state budget for activities and programmes that were dedicated to ending violence against women, and; to double efforts to prevent violence against women and girls, particularly those who have been exposed to violence on intersecting grounds, including women in politics, women human rights defenders, indigenous women and girls, Afro-Brazilian women, migrant women and transwomen.”