Artur Custódio Moreira de Sousa
Movement for the Reintegration of Persons Affected by Hansen’s Disease (MORHAN)
MORHAN is a non-profit organization and social movement in Brazil that raises awareness of Hansen’s disease as a curable disease and advocates for public policies that uphold human rights and support effective treatment.
On Nov. 24, 2023, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva marked a significant chapter in Brazil’s history by promulgating Law 14736 and calling it a “historical reparation for the mistakes of the Brazilian state.”
Sixteen years after Law 11520 of Sept. 18, 2007, secured a monthly, lifelong pension for persons affected by Hansen’s disease who were forced to isolate in colony hospitals, this new “reparation law” adds eligibility for those who were made to isolate at home or in the Amazon jungle as well as children who were separated from their parents.
The reparation law is the result of over a decade of persistent effort. In 2009, two years after the promulgation of Law 11520, MORHAN initiated nationwide discussions about the issue of separated children, and in 2011, six bills on the topic were presented in the Chamber of Deputies. Four years later, in 2015, additional bills sought coverage for persons affected by Hansen’s disease who were made to isolate at home or in the Amazon jungle because of overcrowding in colony hospitals.
During Dilma Rousseff’s presidency (2011–2016), a team in the Ministry of Human Rights proposed and approved a substitute law. The Ministry of Health also approved, but the law stalled in the Ministry of Finance because there were no studies at the time estimating the financial impact of the law on the budget. With the coup that ousted President Rousseff, progress halted entirely.
Finally, in 2022, everything started coming together. A new comprehensive bill, Bill 3023, sought to amend Law 11520 to cover all persons affected by Hansen’s disease forced into isolation or hospitalization by the state and the children who were separated from them. The bill managed to advance in both committees of the Chamber of Deputies and progress to the Federal Senate. After President Lula’s administration came to power on Jan. 1, 2023, the bill passed through the Federal Senate rapidly, receiving urgent approval in just nine months.
President Lula, who was scheduled to be out of the country soon for an international conference, decided to sign the bill into law before the legal deadline. MORHAN mobilized quickly, and in just four days, managed to bring approximately 550 separated children, ages 40 to 90, on bus trips ranging from 6 to 26 hours to Brasília to witness the ceremony. For anyone who could not be there, the signing ceremony was broadcast live by government channels and extensively covered by the press.
MORHAN celebrates the signing of Law 14736 as not only a legislative milestone but also as an instance of progress in transitional justice. By confronting its painful history, apologizing for it, and making reparations, the state demonstrates its commitment to truth, justice, and building a more inclusive future.
May this law be the first of many steps toward a more empathetic and equal society, and may this successful outcome encourage organizations of people affected by Hansen’s disease to continue the fight for human rights. We will still face many battles, whether against the disease and its stigma or for the incorporation of new drugs and technologies. As progress is made, we must preserve isolation sites as sensitive heritage, witnesses of pain, and traumatic spaces that remind us of actions that should never be repeated in human history.
Key facts about Law 14736
- Amends Law 11520 of Sept. 18, 2007
- Expands eligibility for a special monthly pension
- Persons affected by Hansen’s disease who were forced to isolate at home or in the Amazon jungle are now eligible
- Children who were forcibly separated from their parents as part of the isolation policy are now eligible
- Establishes value of pension in relation to national minimum wage