Indigenous children discuss problems and exchange solutions in Madrid
“Discrimination against indigenous people in Latin America is a structural problem and the key to tackle it is to overcome the enormous inequalities in this region,” stated the UNICEF Regional Director.
MADRID, July 7, 2005 - More than 80 indigenous children and adolescents from 17 Latin American countries are meeting here today and tomorrow to discuss their “problems and exchange ideas and solutions to resolve them,” in the words of 11-year-old Jessica Peñafiel, from the Quechua people of Ecuador, during the opening ceremony. The conclusions of the meeting will be reflected in a Final Declaration and presented at the Ibero-American Ministerial Conference on Children and Adolescents, to be held in September in León, Spain.
Juan Pablo de Laiglesia, General Secretary of the International Spanish Cooperation Agency (AECI) opened the meeting, followed by Nils Kastberg, Regional Director of UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean; Francisco González-Bueno, President of the UNICEF National Committee in Spain; José Juan Ortiz Bru, Regional Adviser on Indigenous Children and Adolescent’s Rights, and Otilia Lux, Representative of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
“We call out to all the energies of nature; sun, moon, earth, water, volcanoes and mountains to join us and guide us toward the success of this meeting that has gathered us here on this day.” These words, part of a Mayan ceremony, kicked off the meeting that will end tomorrow in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain, who will participate in the session on Intercultural Bilingual Education.
“Discrimination against indigenous people in Latin America is a structural problem and the key to tackle it is to overcome the enormous inequalities in this region,” stated Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean during the inauguration of the meeting. He added that “we have a debt that is not only from the past, but also from the present.” An estimated 40-50 million indigenous people live in Latin America, representing 10% of the population. Income levels, as well as human development indicators (education, health, and access to water and sanitation), demonstrate that the indigenous population is lagging way behind the non-indigenous population.
Juan Pablo de Laiglesia, General Secretary of the International Spanish Cooperation Agency (AECI) stated that “cooperation with indigenous groups is a major priority for the Spanish government. They are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable since their poverty not only consists in lack of fulfillment of their basic needs, but also a lack of recognition of their individual and collective rights.”
Francisco González-Bueno, President of the UNICEF National Committee in Spain, urged the participating children and adolescents to take action: “Our obligation is to make the rights embraced by Governments a reality. It’s essential that you know your rights in order to be able to demand then, since only rights that are claimed are fulfilled.”
The emotions and joy of the opening ceremony were tarnished by this morning’s attacks in London. “We are devastated by the news of what has happened in London. We express our deep sorrow and our condolences to all those who have suffered, and show solidarity with the victims and the children and adolescents who have been affected directly or indirectly,” declared Kastberg.
Some 100 indigenous leaders from the Latin American region are participating in the meeting, together with representatives from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, members of several UN agencies and representatives from the Spanish International Cooperation Agency (AECI).
The meeting is organized by the UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Panama City, with assistance from AECI and the UNICEF National Committee in Spain.