Brazil Facts

Compassion has been working in Brazil since 1987. Through our work there, we gather Brazil facts about children in poverty. These Brazil facts and statistics provide a good picture of the reality of poverty and how Compassion is making a difference.

Poverty is a common problem in the country of Brazil but Compassion is working to change this. The Brazil facts tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. Our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time.

Don't let the hopelessness of Brazil facts overwhelm you. You can make a difference to a child in Brazil today!


Compassion's work in Brazil began in 1987. Currently, more than 38,800 children are registered in more than 150 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches and denominations to help them provide Brazilian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

Prayer Request
  • Pray for northeastern Brazil

    Apr 01, 2014

    Please continue to pray for areas affected by severe drought in the northeastern region of Brazil.

Featured Stories from Brazil
  • The Path That God Paved

    Jan 26, 2011

    Poverty had a path ready for Ivoneide. She lived in a shack in a poor community with an abusive father. A sponsor and the Leadership Development Program put her on God's path.

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Brazil Map


Learn About Brazil

Six major groups make up the Brazilian population: the Portuguese, who colonized Brazil in the 16th century; Africans, brought to Brazil as slaves; various other European, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrant groups who have settled in Brazil since the mid-19th century; and indigenous peoples of the Tupi and Guarani language stock. Intermarriage between the Portuguese and indigenous people or slaves was common. Although the major European ethnic stock of Brazil was originally Portuguese, subsequent waves of immigration have contributed to a diverse ethnic and cultural heritage.

From 1875 until 1960, about 5 million Europeans immigrated to Brazil, settling mainly in the four southern states of Sao Paulo, Parana, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants have come mainly from Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Poland and the Middle East. The largest Japanese community outside Japan is in Sao Paulo. Despite class distinctions, national identity is strong and racial friction is a relatively new phenomenon.

Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500. The colony was ruled from Lisbon until 1808, when Dom Joao VI and the rest of the Portuguese royal family fled from Napoleon's army and established its seat of government in Rio de Janeiro. Dom Joao VI returned to Portugal in 1821. His son declared Brazil's independence on Sept. 7, 1822, and became emperor with the title of Dom Pedro I. His son, Dom Pedro II, ruled from 1831 to 1889. Slavery had been abolished a year earlier by the Regent Princess Isabel while Dom Pedro II was in Europe.

From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional democracy, with the presidency alternating between the dominant states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. This period ended with a military coup that placed Getulio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency; Vargas remained as dictator until 1945. Between 1945 and 1961, Jose Linhares, Gaspar Dutra, Vargas himself, Café Filho, Carlos Luz, Nereu Ramos, Juscelino Kubitschek and Janio Quadros were elected presidents. When Quadros resigned in 1961, Vice President Joao Goulart succeeded him.

Brazil completed its transition to a popularly elected government in 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello won 53 percent of the vote in the first direct presidential election in 29 years. In 1992, a major corruption scandal led to his impeachment and ultimate resignation. Vice President Itamar Franco took his place and governed for the remainder of Collor's term, culminating in the Oct. 3, 1994, presidential elections, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected president. Cardoso took office Jan. 1, 1995, and was reelected in October 1998 for a second four-year term. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, was elected president in 2002, after his fourth campaign for the office.

President Lula, a former union leader, is Brazil's first working-class president. He pledged social change and promised to eradicate hunger. Investors remembered his radical rhetoric of the past and feared his election. As it became more apparent he would win, the Brazilian currency weakened and Brazil's country-risk rating skyrocketed. In the months after his election, however, he took a conservative fiscal path, warning that social reforms would take years and that Brazil had no alternative but to extend fiscal austerity policies. The Real recovered dramatically. At the same time, Lula raised the minimum wage from 200 to 240 Reals per month and stressed his "Zero Hunger" initiative, designed to give each Brazilian three meals a day. By the end of 2003, key legislation to reform the nation's public sector pension system and to overhaul its tax system had passed Congress.


The typical school year runs from February through November. Children attend one year of preschool, four years of elementary school, four years of middle school and three years of secondary school.

Over the last 10 years, some advances have been made in education. For example, the government has increased the facilities for children, and parents are required to keep their children ages 7 to 14 in school.

Despite advances, the Brazilian educational system has many challenges. Teachers are not adequately trained and many children in Brazil are being moved through school even though they have not mastered the basics, such as reading and math.

Responding to this situation, Compassion Brazil, has begun a literacy program to teach children who have not gained adequate skills in school.


The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government generally respects this right in practice.

There are no registration requirements for religions or religious groups. There is no favored or state religion, although the government maintains a formal agreement with the Vatican. Brazil is the biggest Catholic country in the world, according to the Brazilian Geography and Statistic Institute. However, the numbers of evangelicals in the country are growing.

All faiths are free to establish places of worship, train clergy and proselytize. There is a general provision for access to religious services and counsel in all civil and military establishments. The law prohibits discrimination based on religion. Foreign missionary groups operate freely throughout the country.

There are many Catholic religious holy days in Brazil. The following are observed as official, national holidays: Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Corpus Christi, Assumption Day, Our Lady Aparecida, All Souls Day and Christmas. Additionally, each city has at least one Catholic holy day.

Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, November 8, 2005,



Brazilians enjoy wood carving and sculpture of African descendants in Bahis Salvador.


The "Bossanova," a ballroom dance, originated in Brazil. Other popular music includes the Samba, Pagode and MPB (Brazilian Popular Music, a mix of many Brazilian rhythms). African rhythms have a strong influence in Brazilian music, too.

Holidays and Festivals

New Year's Day, Jan. 1
Carnaval, six weeks before Easter: Carnaval is the biggest celebration in Brazil. For months in advance, people spend time making elaborate costumes and floats, as well as practicing their music and dancing.   
Independence Day, Sept. 7
Republic Proclamation, Nov. 15
Christmas, Dec. 25: Churches usually have a midnight service and dinner on Christmas Eve. Brazilians gather on Christmas Eve with their families to eat panetone (fruit bread), drink champagne and exchange gifts.

Sports and Games

Brazilians love soccer. Every town has professional teams and the season lasts all year. Brazilians also like volleyball and futsal (another kind of soccer played with five players in a special court).

Typical Foods

Common foods in Brazil include rice, beans, pasta, chicken, sausage, beef, vegetables, tropical fruits and coffee. There is at least one typical food from each of Brazil's five regions. For example, Brazilians who live in the northern region may eat pato no tucupi (duck with sauce) while those in the northeast region may eat shrimp.


  • 1 lb. pork sausage, sliced
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into chunks
  • Several slices of bacon
  • 1 can of black beans (15.5 oz.)
  • salt, pepper, garlic, chopped onions and bay leaves, to taste

Brown the sausage, pork and bacon in a pan and add the salt, pepper, garlic, onion and bay leaves. Cook several more minutes until the onions are transparent. Add the black beans and cook five or more minutes, until the beans have absorbed the flavors of the meat.

Feijoada is served with rice, kale, torresmo (bacon) and oranges, which are believed to aid in digestion.



  • ¡Bom dia! (Good morning!)
  • Até logo. (See you later.)
  • Tchau (Goodbye)
  • Boa tarde (Good afternoon)
  • Boa noite (Good evening/good night)
  • ¿Como vai você? (How are you?)
  • Oi (Hi)
Compassion in Brazil

Compassion's work in Brazil began in 1987. Currently, more than 38,800 children are registered in more than 150 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches and denominations to help them provide Brazilian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

Brazil Facts and Figures

Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Brazil.

Brazil United States
Capital Brasilia Washington, D.C.

196,342,592 (July 2008 estimate)

Note: Brazil took a count in August 2000, which reported a population of 169,799,170; that figure was about 3.3 percent lower than projections by the U.S. Census Bureau, and is close to the implied underenumeration of 4.6 percent for the 1991 census; estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.

307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)

Portuguese (official), Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, English, Amerindian languages

English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
Religions Christian 89% (Roman Catholic [nominal] 73.6%, Protestant 15.4%), spiritualist 1.3%, Bantu/Voodoo 0.3%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.2%, none 7.4% (2000 census) Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Literacy rate
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 88.4%
Female: 88.8%
(2004 Estimate)
Male: 99%
Female: 99%
(2003 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources Urban: 96%
Rural: 57%
(2004 estimate)
Urban: 100%
Rural: 94%
(2006 estimate)
Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities Urban: 83%
Rural: 37%
(2004 estimate)
Urban: 100%
Rural: 99%
(2006 estimate)
Climate Mostly tropical, but temperate in south. Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Percentage of population urbanized 85% (2006 estimate) 82% (2008 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 68.15 years
Female: 75.45 years
(2008 estimate)
Male: 75.65 years
Female: 80.69 years
(2010 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 20/1,000 (2006 estimate) 8/1,000 (2008 estimate)
GDP per capita $9,500 (2007 estimate) $46,000 (2009 estimate)
Monetary unit real (BRL) U.S. dollar (USD)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 660,000 (2003 estimate) 1.2 million (2007 estimate)
Percentage of population living below $1 a day 8% (1995-2005 study) Data not available

Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2008; The State of the World's Children, 2008