BOGOTA, August 31 2006 - The 215 articles approved by the Senate of the Republic on 29 August mark the beginning of a new phase for Colombia’s 18 million children and adolescents. With them, the country has updated its legislation on children, adjusting it to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
After seven sessions, the Senate approved a set of articles that make children subjects of rights, and not objects of protection. With the Senate’s decision, and after three years of consideration in Congress, the text is now in the hands of the Conciliatory Commission between the House and the Senate. Following this process, the law can be sanctioned by the President, and then will be ready to enter into effect.
Senators Gina Parody and Héctor Héli Rojas were the ones who sponsored the passage of the bill through Congress. Some of the most significant changes the law introduces, vis-à-vis the former Code for Minors, deal with child labor, the operation of adoption agencies, the criminal liability of young people, sentences for crimes committed against children, the restoration of rights, and State support for the provision of health and education services for persons under 18.
From Code to Law
Legal age for employment: This Law on Children changes the minimum age for children to work from 14 to 15 years, stipulating that such work must not place the well-being of the children at risk. Furthermore, one of the Law’s objectives is to strengthen campaigns and programs for the total eradication of child labor.
Adoption agencies: Regarding agencies for the adoption of children, these will come under the surveillance of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare. These institutions may not receive national or international donations for providing children for adoption, and will be sanctioned for doing so.
Penalization of adolescents: One of the most conflictive themes dealt with during the passage of the Law was with respect to processes for punishing youths that become involved in criminal behavior. When the Law enters into effect, the process of investigation, accusation and trial of these cases will have a clear orientation towards the formation and social reintegration of these young people. According to Beatriz Londoño, former Director of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, the framework governing these processes should be pedagogical, differentiated and specialized. Deprivation of liberty is held out as the last-resort punitive measure, and the minimum age for imposing this sanction is sixteen. However, investigations may begin and other kinds of sanctions be applied only in cases of child lawbreakers over 14. The old Code for Minors permitted the beginning of criminal trials from the age of 12 forward.
Sentences for crimes against children and adolescents: On the other hand, one of the most important changes introduced by the Law is the stiffening of sentences for those who commit crimes against children. After being sentenced, the aggressors will have no possibility of winning any benefits. Furthermore, authorities and communication media must disseminate the identities and photographs of these persons as a way of promoting a social sanction.
Restoration of rights: In cases where children are physically, sexually or psychologically abused, the State has the obligation to restore their rights and provide reparation for damages.
Finally, in matters of health and education: the Law on Children stipulates obligatory attention for children from socio-economic strata one, two and three in all the country’s hospitals and clinics. Similarly, the State guarantees these children free access to education through the ninth grade.
With these changes (to mention only some of the more important ones) introduced into its legislative framework, Colombia ceases to be a country where people speak of “minors”, and becomes a State that recognizes its children and adolescents as a “major” responsibility.
What remains is the enormous task of converting these norms into reality, and building with them the country that Colombian children and adolescents deserve.
About UNICEF For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.