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Lei Maria da Penha
National Congress of Brazil
  • Law No. 11,340 of 7 August 2006
CitationPL 4559/2004
Territorial extentWhole of Brazil
Passed byChamber of Deputies
Passed22 March 2006
Passed byFederal Senate
Passed12 July 2006
Signed byPresident Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Signed7 August 2006
Commenced22 September 2006
Legislative history
First chamber: Chamber of Deputies
Bill titleLaw Project 4559/2004
Bill citationPL 4559/2004
Introduced byPresidency of the Republic
Introduced3 December 2004
Committee responsibleSocial Security and Family, Finances and Taxation
First reading13 December 2004
Second reading7 March 2006
Passed22 March 2006
Second chamber: Federal Senate
Bill titleChamber Law Project 37/2006
Bill citationPLC 37/2006
Received from the Chamber of Deputies31 March 2006
Member(s) in chargeChamber of Deputies
First reading3 April 2006
Second reading11 July 2006
Passed12 July 2006
Creates mechanisms to curb domestic and family violence against women, pursuant to § 8 of art. 226 of the Federal Constitution, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence against Women; provides for the creation of Courts of Domestic and Family Violence against Women; amends the Criminal Procedure Code, the Penal Code and the Penal Execution Law; and takes other measures
Domestic violence, violence against women, women's rights
Status: In force

The Lei Maria da Penha (Portuguese: [ˈlej mɐˈɾi.ɐ dɐ ˈpẽɲɐ], Maria da Penha Law), officially Law No. 11,340 of 7 August 2006, targets gender based violence in Brazil, with the specific aim of reducing domestic violence in the country. Sanctioned on 7 August 2006 by president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and subsequently implemented on 22 September 2006, the law is an important contribution to an international movement of criminalizing violence against women.[1] The name of the law is an homage to the Brazilian activist Maria da Penha Maia a victim of domestic violence.[2]


Violence against women, specifically domestic violence, remains a pervasive issue in Latin America.[3] Domestic violence can be defined as, “physical, sexual, and verbal aggression…typical of sexism and a way to strengthen men's power within the household, especially if they feel economically insecure.”[3] According to the Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, 66% of Brazilian men have perpetrated violence against a woman in his community and 70% of Brazilian women identified as having experienced some form of violence in a public space before the age of 24.[4] In early 2017, an in-depth examination of gender based violence in Brazil determined that only a quarter of women who experience violence by the hands of an intimate partner report incidents to the authorities.[5] Despite strong statistical evidence supporting widespread violence against women in Brazilian households, few legal initiatives existed in Brazil to challenge this systematic violence against women.[6] Until 2009, domestic abuse could be dismissed by the court if the woman was not deemed to be “honest.”[2]

In 2006, with intense media focus on the high-profile case of Maria da Penha, the Brazilian government created the Maria da Penha Law (named in da Penha's honor) in an attempted response to international criticism.[2] Over the course of her 23-year marriage, Maria da Penha was domestically abused by her husband, resulting in da Penha becoming paraplegic after two murder attempts.[6] Following these events, da Penha, along with the Center for Justice for International Law (CEJIL) and the Latin American Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM), spent the next twenty years fighting her husband through the Brazilian legal system; da Penha filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, emphasizing the need for the state to intervene in combating gender based violence in the country.[6]

Components of the law

The Maria da Penha law aims to reduce domestic violence mainly by increasing punishment for domestic abuse offenders, increasing the maximum detention time from one to three years, establishing domestic violence courts and requiring Brazilian authorities to institute 24 hour shelters for victims of household domestic abuse.[2] The law specifically states that domestic violence between same-sex partners and domestic abuse perpetrated by woman towards a man in a heterosexual relationship also constitute punishable crime.[7] Additionally, the law provides protective measures to the victim, empowering judges to temporary restraining orders.[5]

In February 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Maria da Penha law, ruling that prosecutors “may bring domestic violence cases regardless of whether the victim presses charges or not.”[8]


Supportive response

Celebrating 12 years of Lei Maria da Penha in 2018: Prof. Noëlle Silva, Prof. Flávia Biroli (Mercosur Women's Forum), Emília Fernandes (Brazilian Women's Union) and Vanja Andrea Reis dos Santos

With the implementation of the Maria da Penha Law, Brazil arguably has one of the most progressive pieces of legislation addressing domestic violence in Latin America.[9] According to the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada), the Lei Maria da Penha has had a positive impact in reducing domestic violence against women in Brazil, with their study showing a 10% decrease in projected domestic homicides rates since 2006.[citation needed] While statistical evidence supports the positive impacts of the law in Brazil, many in Brazil still feel more must be done to address high levels of domestic violence in the country.[10]

Critical response

Those critical of the effectiveness of the law point to failures in the law's implementation. Speaking to these concerns, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch, Maria Laura Canineu said, “ The Maria da Penha law was a major step forward, but more than a decade later, implementation remains woefully inadequate throughout much of the country.”[5] More specifically, these shortcomings include the failure of police to follow procedure when a woman reports an incident of violence, the practice of demanding women undergo invasive medical procedures to prove abuse, the lack of a private space for the victim to share a testimony, and the failure to carry out protection orders against offenders.[11] Additionally, political turmoil in Brazil has defunded many government programs protecting domestic violence victims, specifically women of color from low socio-economic classes who are already denied access to adequate health and legal services.[2] This is also observed in limited access to the special units established by the law; most special units are located only in major Brazilian cities, isolating women in rural areas of the country and causing them to travel long distances for help.[5][2] In addition to the logistical issues that remain, the culture of machismo in Brazil continues to stand as a major barrier for women seeking justice. "Crimes that occurred inside the house are, in general, consider less serious than those committed in the public sphere. The cultural acceptance of domestic violence aggravated this problem.”[6] da Penha herself has been outspoken and critical about the effectiveness of the law, stating, “The problem is not the law but in its application…”[12]

See also


  1. ^ Kim, Mimi. "Marta Rodriguez de Assis Machado Punishing Gender Violence: Brazil's "Maria da Penha Law"". Center for Latin American Studies: University of California, Berkeley.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Despite strong laws, domestic violence in Brazil is rampant". AP NEWS. 2018-09-21. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  3. ^ a b Wilson, Tamar Diana (2014). "Introduction: Violence against Women in Latin America". Latin American Perspectives. 41 (1): 3–18. doi:10.1177/0094582X13492143. JSTOR 24573973.
  4. ^ "A Victimização de Mulheres no Brasil" (PDF). Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública.
  5. ^ a b c d "Brazil: Domestic Violence Victims Denied Justice". Human Rights Watch. 21 June 2017. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  6. ^ a b c d Spieler (2011). "The Maria da Penha Case and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Contributions to the Debate on Domestic Violence Against Women in Brazil". Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies. 18 (1): 121–143. doi:10.2979/indjglolegstu.18.1.121. JSTOR 10.2979/indjglolegstu.18.1.121. S2CID 154383871.
  7. ^ "Maria da Penha Law: A Name that Changed Society". UN Women. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  8. ^ Human Rights Watch (2013). World report 2013. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1t892sk. ISBN 9781447309925. S2CID 249105023.
  9. ^ "WHO-Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women, Brazil" (PDF). World Health Organization.
  10. ^ Johnson, Sarah (2018-08-23). "'Hitting women isn't normal': tackling male violence in Brazil". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  11. ^ "For Brazil's Women, Violence Begins at Home". Human Rights Watch. 2018-01-31. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  12. ^ "Brazil shocked into national debate on domestic abuse following broadcast of graphic video". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-11-30.