Municipal Defenders of Children and Adolescents
The Municipal Defenders of Children and Adolescents were created in 1997, to promote, protect and defend the rights of children and adolescents. The Defenders provide each community with a permanent, public and free municipal service. While the cost of its running is the responsibility of the municipal governments, UNICEF also supports their work.
In Bolivia, children and adolescents have frequently faced abuse, exploitation, abandonment and exclusion. Although the State has created institutions to protect child rights, these mechanisms were not entirely effective. To remedy this situation, the Municipal Defenders of Children and Adolescents (MDCA) were formed.
In 1997, owing to the Popular Participation Law, the Municipal Defenders of Children and Adolescents were created, with the objective of generating a culture of respect for child rights. The Child and Adolescent Code sets out and guarantees the definition, procedures and attributions of these rights in articles 194, 195 and 196, respectively.
Defenders Offices are established in 194 of the 314 municipalities in Bolivia. The municipalities are responsible for their instalation and efficiency. Each municipal government funds their Defenders Office, assigning it a budget for its maintenance and the salaries of professionals working for it, so as to guarantee the future and continuity of this service.
UNICEF, on the other hand, provides support through direct actions, such as intensive training, technical assistence, equipment, and communication and dissemination materials.
Integrated and confidential assistance
The Defenders are formed by interdisciplinary teams of lawyers, social workers, psychologists and other professional social workers. This way, the Defenders can offer an integrated assistance to users. The Offices take care of cases of child abuse, paternal and/or maternal irresponsability, labour exploitation and child prostitution, among others.
Each case is registered on a form and followed up confidentially. Not even those involved in the case can have access to the case files. Once a case is resolved, the history is filed away.
In principle, the Defenders are conciliatory instances. They attempt to solve conflicts by means of reaching an agreement between the parties involved. If no agreement is reached or when the law has been broken, conciliation is not possible. In this situation, the Defenders derive the case to the judicial authorities. However, their intervention does not stop there. The Defenders follow up on trial cases until the legal process concludes.
- Promotion and dissemination of the rights of the child and adolescent. Aside from identifying the requirements of children and adolescents, they also carry out diagnoses of the situations relating to observance of child rights in the municipality. Based on this information, the Defenders create awareness within the community and motivate it to participate in changes that benefit children and adolescents.
- Orientation and information to the public at large on existing procedures to fulfill the law in favour of children and adolescents.
- Prevention and surveillance: advise the community in general of situations placing at risk the life, health, freedom and dignity of children and adolescents.