Women and Justice: Jurisdiction


Decreto Lei No 2.848 (1940)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Gender discrimination

Under this law it is illegal to kill a child during pregnancy, during childbirth, or shortly afterwards. Under Article 124 to provoke abortion in itself or to allow others to provoke it, is illegal. Under Article 125 to proceed with abortion, without the consent of the pregnant woman is illegal. It is illegal under Article 126 to provoke abortion with the consent of the pregnant woman. Brazilian law only allows abortion if the woman’s life is at risk, if the pregnancy resulted from rape, or if the foetus has an anencephaly. However, the issue of legalizing abortion has been taken to the Supreme Court and may be reformed soon.

Lei Nº 11.441 (2007)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

This law, passed in 2007, allowed both consensual divorce and consensual separation to be dealt with in the civil registry so that divorce, separation, and inventory and division of assets would become extra judicial affairs when the parties agreed on its terms. This means that the process of getting a divorce became significantly easier as a result of the lower financial costs and the decrease in the number of procedures required in getting the divorce. Divorce therefore became more accessible.

Lei Nº 12.705 (2012)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

This law allowed women to serve in the Brazilian army. Article 7 allows women to enter into the military line of education within five years of the law being passed (therefore it allowed women to commence combat training in 2016).

Lei Nº 9.029 (1995)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

This law prohibits any discrimination that is based upon gender, race, colour, marital status, family status or age. Article 1 prohibits any discriminatory and limiting practice for the effect of access to employment, or their maintenance, by reason of sex, origin, race, colour, marital status, family situation or age (except in the protection of the child). Article 2 prohibits any discriminatory practices such as i) requiring a test, examination, skill, award, attestation, declaration or any other procedure concerning sterilization or pregnancy, ii) the adoption of any measures, at the initiative of the employer that constitute induction, promotion of birth control. The Act provides for the detention of one to two years and a fine.

Lei Nº 11.108 (2005)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Gender discrimination

On April 7, 2005, Law No. 11.108/2005 was published to amend existing Law No. 8.080/1990. It included a new chapter that mandated that all health services of the Unified Health System (“SUS”) must allow the presence of an accompanying party chosen by the parturient woman, throughout the entire labor, birth, and the immediate post-partum period.

Lei Nº 11.340 (2006)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, International law

On August 7, 2006, Law No. 11.340 was enacted to create a new body of legal provisions tackling the issue of domestic violence against women in Brazil. Commonly known as “Lei Maria da Penha” (or Maria da Penha Act), the new law criminalized different forms of domestic violence against women, established stricter punishment for offenders, facilitated preventive arrests, and created other special protective and relief mechanisms for women, including special courts, designated police stations, and shelter for women. The new law, considered a landmark statute, was named after Maria da Penha, a Brazilian bio-pharmacist who became paraplegic after being shot and electrocuted by her husband. After nearly two decades of ineffective criminal prosecution, Maria da Penha took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where Brazil was ultimately criticized for its inefficient treatment of issues regarding domestic violence (case available here). In effect since 2006, the Maria da Penha Act has been praised by the United Nations as one of the most progressive laws in combatting domestic violence against women.

Lei Nº 11.770 (2008)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

On September 9, 2008, Law No. 11.770 was enacted to create a tax incentive program for private companies that offer an additional sixty (60) days of maternity leave on top of the mandatory 120 days set forth in Decree No. 5.452/1943. The incentive also applies for adoptions.

Resolução nº 175/2013 (2013)

Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ

On May 14, 2013, the National Justice Council issued a resolution stating that competent authorities are not allowed to refuse (a) to celebrate same-sex civil marriages nor (b) to convert same-sex common-law marriages (stable union) into civil marriages.  The National Justice Council is a public administrative body that aims to advance the work of the Brazilian judicial system. The resolution was issued after the Supreme Court declared in 2011 that it is unconstitutional to apply a different legal treatment to same-sex common-law marriages (stable union), from the one applied to heterosexual common-law marriages (stable union). 

Law No. 13.104/2015 (“Lei do Feminicídio”) (2015)

Female infanticide and feticide, Femicide

On March 9, 2015, Brazil’s existing criminal code was amended to criminalize femicide, with sentencing ranging from twelve to thirty years of imprisonment. The new legislation defined femicide as a sex-based homicide committed against women, with the involvement of domestic violence, discrimination or contempt for women. The crime is aggravated if the victim is a pregnant woman, a woman within the first three months of maternity, a girl under the age of fourteen years or a woman over sixty years of age. Besides amending the existing criminal code, the new legislation also amended Law no. 8.072/1990, adding femicide to the list of heinous crimes.

Domestic Case Law

Lei Nº 13.811 (2019)

Forced and early marriage, Gender discrimination

This law amends Article 1,520 of the Civil code in order to establish that only persons who have reached the age of marriage determined in article 1,517 of the Civil Code may marry. Article 1,517 of the Civil Code provides that a man and woman who have not reached the age of majority may marry at age 16 if they have received authorization from both of their parents or their legal representatives. (Article 5 of the Civil Code provided that minority ceases at the age of 18, when the person is entitled to practice all acts of civil life.) Before this amendment, Article 1,520 of the Civil Code established that those who had not yet reached the age of marriage according to Article 1,517 would be allowed to marry to avoid the imposition or enforcement of criminal penalties or in the case of pregnancy. This is no longer permitted as a reason to marry younger than the age of 16.

Habeas Corpus 124.306 Superior Tribunal de Justiça (Superior Court of Justice of Brazil) (2016)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Gender discrimination

The Superior Court of Justice of Brazil revoked the pretrial detention order issued against staff and patients of a clinic that was alleged to have been performing clandestine abortions. The Court found that criminal laws against abortion were unconstitutional, and the criminalization of voluntary termination of pregnancy during the first three months was incompatible with the protection of multiple fundamental rights of women. The decision set an important precedent for the sexual and reproductive rights of women in Brazil. The court also discussed that the criminalization of abortion disproportionately affected women living in poverty who do not have access to private or public abortion clinics. Judge Barroso stated that while the potential life of the foetus is important, the criminalisation of abortion before the end of the first three months of pregnancy violated several fundamental rights of women granted by the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 (personal autonomy, physical and mental integrity, sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality). This decision does not decriminalize abortion but suggests that abortion may be legalised in the future. This is perhaps a softening of the law regarding abortion in Brazil.  

Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (ADI) 4275 Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court of Brazil) (2009)

Gender discrimination, LGBTIQ

Brazil’s Supreme Court decided by a majority that transgender individuals could change their legal name and gender marked in the civil registry. The court stated that this does not require psychological evaluation, hormonal treatment, transition surgery, or any other medical procedure. The court recognized the right of transgender persons to change their civil registry without gender change or even judicial authorization. All the justices of the court recognized the right and the majority understood that no judicial authorization is necessary of the amendment.

Habeas Corpus 106.212 Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court of Brazil) (2011)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

This case refers to a writ filed by the accused in order to not apply to his case Article 41 of Law 11.340/ 2006 (Maria da Penha Act). Article 41 states that the domestic crimes committed against women cannot be tried by the procedural rite of 9.099/1995 (Small Courts Act), which regulates the trial of petty offenses. The accused argued that his conduct did not fit into Article 41, and that applying this article would be unconstitutional for giving special treatment to women. The Supreme Court of Brazil denied the order and declared Article 41 constitutional. They found that the Constitution gave the legislator freedom to define which crimes will be considered petty offenses. The Court decided that the domestic crimes against women imply greater complexity because they are crimes against the family institution, for which the Constitution has established special protection.

Habeas Corpus 143.641 São Paulo Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court of Brazil)

Gender discrimination

In this case, Brazil’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that pregnant women, mothers of children up to the age of 12, and mothers with disabled children accused of non-violent crimes should be permitted to await trial under house arrest rather than in detention. Minister Ricardo Lewandowski of the Federal Supreme Court granted in this judgment habeas corpus ex officio so that prisoners with children who have not yet been placed under house arrest are entitled to the benefit.

Decriminalization of Abortion in Cases of Anencephaly: Claim For Disobeying a Fundamental Constitutional Dispositive No. 54/2004 (in Portuguese) Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (2012)

Gender discrimination

In 2004, the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal or “STF”) considered a claim brought by the National Trade Union of Health Workers and ANIS (Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights, and Gender) to determine whether terminating a pregnancy in which the fetus suffers from anencephaly (absence of major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp) violates the prohibition on abortion as set forth in Brazil’s Penal Code. On April 12, 2012, the STF rendered an 8-2 decision (with one abstention) that abortion in the circumstance of anencephaly is not a criminal act under the Penal Code. The majority extended a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy to cases of anecephalic fetuses because the fetus does not have the potential for a viable life outside of the womb, and to force a woman to carry such a pregnancy to term is akin to torture. Justice Marco Aurelio and the majority held that to interpret the Penal Code to prohibit such abortion would violate a woman’s constitutional guarantees of human dignity, autonomy, privacy, and the right to health. A woman therefore may seek and receive treatment to terminate the anencephalic pregnancy without risk of criminal prosecution and without judicial involvement.

Rape Defined As Heinous Crime for Sentencing Purposes: Habeas Corpus No. 81.288-1 (in Portuguese) Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (2003)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal or “STF”) denied the petition for writ of habeas corpus of Valdemiro Gutz, who had been convicted by the Superior Court of Justice – Santa Catarina of raping his two, minor daughters, both under the age of fourteen, over a period of five years. Although Gutz had been sentenced to 16 years and 8 months in jail for his crimes, the lower court subsequently reduced Gutz’s sentence by one-quarter, pursuant to Presidential Decree 3.226/99 (“Decree”). The lower court determined that the reduction was not barred by Article 7, Section 1 of the Decree, which states that a reprieve shall not apply to those convicted of “heinous crimes and those of torture, terrorism, illegal trafficking.” In response to the reduced sentence, the public prosecutor argued that Gutz’ crime fell within the “heinous crimes” exception to sentence reductions. The Service of Criminal Review of the State of Santa Catarina subsequently filed for writ of habeas corpus, arguing that crimes of rape and sexual assault do not fall within the scope of the “heinous crimes” exception except where serious bodily injury or fatality results. The Court examined the legislative language and treatment of rape, sexual assault, and other crimes, with respect to qualifying such crimes as “heinous.” The majority of the Court held that the legislation already had classified rape as a heinous crime. The Court denied the writ, and Gutz’s sentence remained without reduction.

Sexual Assault Against a Minor is a Presumed Violent Act: Habeas Corpos No. 74.983-6 (in Portugeuse) Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (1997)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal or “STF”) denied the petition for writ of habeas corpus of Mario Somensi, upholding the constitutionality of Article 224(a) of the Penal Code which establishes a presumption of violence in sex crimes against minors. Somensi was convicted of rape and child abuse, and was sentenced to a prison term of eight years for rape and one year and ten months for child abuse. In his appeal and writ, Somensi argued he had committed no violence and that the presumption of violence set forth in Article 224(a) of the Penal Code was unconstitutional. The Court first noted that the provision in question predated Brazil’s 1988 Constitution and could not be found “unconstitutional” with respect to its construction. Rather, the Court examined its compatibility with the 1988 Constitution and found that the purpose of the presumption – to protect minors who legally are incapable of offering consent – was consistent with and expressed by the broad statement in Article 227 § 4 of the Constitution that “[t]he law shall severely punish abuse, violence and sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.” The STF held that the presumption did not violate constitutional principles, even when the presumption embraced what otherwise would be a factual matter requiring evidentiary proof.

Constitutionality of Lei Maria da Penha (Federal Domestic Violence Law ) (ADC 19 and ADI 4424) (in Portuguese) Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (2012)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination, Gender-based violence in general

Following a request to Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal or “STF”) by then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the STF reviewed and upheld the constitutionality of the Lei Maria da Penha (“LMP”). The LMP is Brazil’s first law to address the problem of domestic violence against women on a national scale. The law’s provision for the creation of special courts, as well as the law’s differentiated protection of women, had come under scrutiny in many of Brazil’s lower courts as unconstitutional. The STF, however, has previously held that those articles were constitutional. President Silva argued that the LMP was constitutional due to Article 226, § 8 of the Federal Constitution, and Brazil’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women. The Justices agreed that the LMP does not create a law of unequal treatment as between men and women, but addresses the reality of longstanding discrimination and aggression directed at women, and offers substantive mechanisms to promote equality without impinging on the rights of males. The Court also found that the provision of specialized courts is constitutional and not in conflict with state control of the local courts. Finally, with a majority vote of 10-1, the Justices held that the office of the public prosecutor can prosecute domestic violence cases even when the victim fails to appear or file a complaint against her aggressor. The majority reasoned that state intervention is necessary to guarantee the victim’s protection from the risk of ongoing violence, which may be aggravated by the victim appearing in the action against her aggressor.

Constitutionality of Social Security Minimum Payment Provision as Applied During Maternity Leave: ADI 1946-5 (in Portuguese) Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (2003)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal or “STF”) reviewed the constitutionality of the 1998 Amendment 20 of the federal Social Security Law. The amendment imposed a maximum value on the amount of social security benefits that could be paid to a beneficiary under the general social security system at R$1,200 per month. On its face, the R$1,200 maximum applied equally to a number of eligible benefit categories, including maternity or pregnancy-related leave. The amendment was challenged on the grounds that, when read together with Article 7, Section XVIII, of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, the amendment had a discriminatory effect on women. This provision essentially guarantees that an employee is paid her full salary during maternity leave. By imposing a cap on social security coverage during maternity leave, Amendment 20 would require the employer to cover the difference between the R$1,200 cap and the employee’s full pay. The party challenging the amendment argued that this created a negative incentive to employers who would discriminate in hiring women or in setting women’s salary by paying women less in order to stay under the R$1,200 cap. The Court agreed that Amendment 20 was discriminatory in its effect. In a unanimous decision, the STF held that the effect of Amendment 20 conflicted with the Brazilian Constitution’s equal protection provisions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. The Court therefore ordered that Amendment 20 be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Article 7 of the Constitution such that implementation of the social security cap does not extend to maternity and pregnancy-related leave.