French version | Ver en español

Brazilian Supreme Court says school meals not an obligation

The Brazilian Supreme Court continues a rampant trend of dismantling food policies and issues a decision that hinders the distribution of school meals to around 1.5 million pupils in Rio de Janeiro.

Although public schools remain closed in the face of COVID, the State of Rio de Janeiro’s government has been judicially obliged to guarantee school meals for around 1.5 million schoolchildren who are enrolled in public schools.  Rio de Janeiro’s governor however, questioned this obligation last August, requesting the Brazilian Supreme Court to overrule it. Despite public outcry, the Supreme Court’s Justice Dias Toffoli has accepted the complaint and suspended the government’s obligation. 

In his decision, Justice Toffoli argues that the finances of the state should not be overburdened with the maintenance of the distribution of school meals to all schoolchildren during the pandemic, and highlighted that it is not task of the Judiciary to intervene in the definition of such public policies. This misleading interpretation sets a dangerous precedent for the realization of the right to food and nutrition, not only in Brazil, but also across the world.

“The Brazilian Supreme Court’s decision is a blatant attack on the most basic right of these schoolchildren: the right to be free from hunger! Justice Toffoli has miscalculated, falsely prioritizing the state’s budget over children’s right to food, which should be a priority for public authorities – especially during a pandemic”, comments Felipe Bley Folly, Justiciability Coordinator at FIAN International.

In an open letter spearheaded by the Brazilian Forum for Food Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security (FBSSAN), FIAN International, FIAN Brazil, DHESCA Brasil, National Campaign for the Right to Education, and the Public Defender’s Office, and supported by 130 organizations from more than 20 countries,  the signatories urge Toffoli to revoke his decision.

“In his decision, the Justice regrettably disregards the serious consequences of the absence of school meals in the integral development of schoolchildren from public schools in Rio de Janeiro – and in all regions across the country. In many cases, this is the only substantial meal of the day for them. International solidarity is crucial in condemning and giving visibility to such injustice”, highlights Mariana Santarelli, member of FBSSAN and Rapporteur on Human Rights from the ESCR Platform in Brazil.

As part of civil society’s mobilization, a public hearing is taking place on October 1 at 9pm (CEST), with the participation of representatives of students’ organizations, right to food and food sovereignty movements, members of the Public Ministry and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Mr. Michael Fakhri.

“The Brazilian Supreme Court must take the right to food seriously and oblige the Brazilian state to comply with its national and international human rights duties. Schoolchildren demand dignified treatment and adequate school meals, assuring that 30% of food purchases come from family farming, as provided by Brazilian law”, concludes Valeria Burity, Secretary-General of FIAN Brazil. 

Watch the public hearing with interpretation into English: 
Watch the public hearing in Portuguese:  
Read the fact sheet about the case.