Children first?

BY: CAROLINA VILLADIEGO*

 

Lea la versión en español de este blog aquí.

 

A silent but important problem is taking place in Latin America: the violence against thousands of children younger than 18-years old. In the house, in the school, in the street, in the state institutions, well, everywhere. Family, friends, officials, teachers, and strangers are the ones perpetrating the violence. Although national laws state that the rights of children are prevalent and must in practice prevail, they are not a priority nor really guaranteed.

It seems that we have are used to news about violence against boys and girls. In Mendoza (Argentina), several priests were accused of raping a group of hearing-impaired children at a high school where they were supposed to be protected. In Bogotá (Colombia), a man kidnapped, tortured, raped, and killed a 7-year old girl whose family was displaced by violence. In Mexico, unaccompanied and accompanied migrant children flee to the United States from the threat of being recruited by gangs, and then are later detained, deprived of liberty, and deported.

According to information gathered by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Cepal) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 2009, forty million children under the age of 15 have been victims of abuse, violence and abandonment in the region. In several countries, the majority of victims of sexual abuse were girls, and often lived with their aggressors.

  Photo credit:  Daniel john buchanan

Photo credit: Daniel john buchanan

UNICEF said that corporal punishment against children is used in several schools in the region. In addition, many girls and adolescents suffer sexual violence by their teachers and other students. Abuse practices against children are even replicated in state institutions such as foster homes, adoption agencies, and youth detention centers, which are established in the first place to protect and guarantee their rights.

In the street, the situation of violence against children is not any better. UNICEF reported that they are victims of firearms, sexually and commercially exploited, recruited by illegal armed groups, victims of human trafficking and violence through internet, among others. In El Salvador, for example, several children are victims of sexual and labor slavery by gangs. In Honduras, the gangs recruit them to commit heinous crimes.

In 2012, Latin America and the Caribbean had the highest homicide rate of children in the world, 12 children per 100,000 inhabitants. In Venezuela, Guatemala and El Salvador, this rate was higher than 20 percent.

The first table shows the homicide rate for children and adolescents in the region. The second table shows the homicide rate for children and adolescents by country.

 

Needless to say, violence severely affects the rights of children belonging to indigenous peoples. According to Cepal, 88% of them have suffered some kind of deprivation of rights in the region. For example, one in five indigenous children has their right to education violated. In Colombia, almost one hundred Wayuu children died from malnutrition in 2016.  Argentina faced a similar situation in 2015. As if this were not enough, the gap between the deprivation of the right to housing and water is much higher in the case of indigenous children than in non-indigenous children.

 

  Percentage of indigenous to non-indigenous children with limitations to education, housing and water. Red shows the total in Latin America, dark blue shows moderate limitation and light blue shows severe limitation.

Percentage of indigenous to non-indigenous children with limitations to education, housing and water. Red shows the total in Latin America, dark blue shows moderate limitation and light blue shows severe limitation.

 

These are just some of the problems that children face in the region. Our rulers and politicians have accustomed us to speeches where they say that boys and girls are at the center of their governments and policies, but the reality is different. That is why it is time to put children in the center of the state and not at the margins where they have always been.

No more laws are needed, because in general, legislation on childhood and adolescence is adequate. What we need is action. For example, to prioritize the budget allocated to guarantee their rights (food, education, health, basic sanitation, etc.).  To strengthen the budget of state institutions responsible for their welfare, and seriously monitor those who provide services in them. To control violence in schools and in the street. To persecute those who use them, exploit them, and violate them. To take family violence seriously and invest in prevention and punishment. In short, to stop thinking about putting children first, and actually doing it.

 

*Carolina is a researcher, at the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia).

All charts are available here.

Featured photo: Stéphanie Vé