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Brazil fights warts behind pretty faces

Rio De Janeiro, Jan. 12 (Reuters): Brazilian women, beautiful but downtrodden by a macho Latin culture, look forward to a fairer deal in a new civil code that came into force yesterday.

The code, which updates social rules in Latin America’s largest country of 170 million people, formally ends many of the most sexist laws that allowed men to rule the roost in government, business and at home.

Replacing a 1916 text, the code states that a bridegroom can longer throw out his bride if he discovers that she is not a virgin. It also gives women equal rights to men in marriage.

“We hope the attitude of judges will change because the new code now gives women the same rights as men,” said Andresa Caldas, legal director at the Justicia Global non-government aid group.

Caldas noted that the old civil code was drafted when Brazil was a rural, patriarchal society. It did not reflect life in modern Brazil where some 85 per cent of the population live in urban areas and many women go to work.

Although Brazilian women won the right to vote in 1934, they remain second class citizens.

Symbolically, the new code, which took nearly 30 years to draft, no longer refers to the rights of a “man” but of a “person”.

The father is no longer considered to be head of the family and the mother now has an equal say in the upbringing of children.

Reflecting changes in society, the family is defined as members of any stable union, and no longer has to be sealed by marriage.

Despite some protests, the new code doesn’t recognise homosexual unions as a framework for a family.

Adultery, however, is still considered a reason for ending a marriage, which some lawyers consider unfair because Brazilian society is more tolerant of promiscuity by men.

The legal aid for marriage is reduced to 18, from 21, and children can become independent at 16. Adopted children and those born out of wedlock now enjoy the same rights as those born within marriage.

Men can request paternity tests whenever they want and no longer have to do so within two months of a child’s birth.

Some lawyers are sceptical, however, of any leap forward for women in male-dominated Brazil. “Justice is slow and expensive. Most people can’t afford it,” said a Rio de Janeiro-based lawyer.

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