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January 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1984 ; 19(5): 535-46.

Infant mortality and infant care: cultural and economic constraints on nurturing in northeast Brazil.

Scheper-Hughes N.

The Brazilian 'Economic Miracle' has had an adverse effect on infant and childhood mortality which has been steadily rising throughout Brazil since the late 1960s. An analysis of the reproductive histories of 72 marginally employed residents of a Northeast Brazilian rural shantytown explores the economic and cultural context that inhibits these mother's abilities to rear healthy, living children and which forces them to devise 'ethnoeugenic' childrearing strategies that prejudice the life chances of those offspring judged 'less fit' for survival under the pernicious conditions of life on the Alto. it is suggested that the selective neglect of children is a direct consequence of the selective neglect of their mothers who have been excluded from participating in the national economy. The links between economic exploitation and maternal deprivation are further discussed with reference to the social causes of the 'insufficient breastmilk syndrome' and the commercial powdered milk dependency of these women.


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