Since the late 1980s, UNICEF has worked with the Government of Brazil to tackle some of the key social problems affecting children and youths, including child labour and sexual exploitation. Rather than focusing on ad hoc projects related to these issues, UNICEF created a protective environment that integrates child protection into every aspect of its programming. The following illustrates how such an environment was constructed, based on the eight elements that UNICEF has defined as essential:
A protective environment is one in which:
1. Attitudes, prejudices and beliefs that facilitate or lead to abuses are challenged and changed, and everyone accepts their responsibility to ensure that children are protected. UNICEF has successfully engaged Brazil’s NGOs, government and the private sector in a widespread campaign against child labour. Parents and communities were targeted with a simple message: ‘Children have a right to an education, to play and to be protected from exploitation’. At the same time, UNICEF sponsored studies that demonstrated that children engaged in child labour performed more poorly in school than other children. UNICEF’s multifaceted approach to child labour was eventually adopted as the government’s policy towards child labour eradication.
2. The government is truly committed to child protection. As an advocate for child protection, UNICEF draws upon the Convention on the Rights of the Child as its guiding force. This almost universally ratified human rights instrument influenced the drafting of Brazil’s Constitution in the late 1980s, which explicitly endorses a child’s right to education, health care and protection, and its Statute on Children and Adolescents, which is considered one of the most advanced pieces of legislation on child rights today. The Government of Brazil is a signatory to other key human rights instruments – including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In 1990, the government created a Child Rights Statute. UNICEF was influential in the creation of this and other legislation important to the welfare of children in Brazil.
3. The media and civil society openly confront exploitation, abuse and violence. Throughout the 1990s, UNICEF actively promoted Brazil’s child rights movement in partnership with the church, numerous local NGOs and the media. It also helped to establish a news agency specializing in children’s rights known as ANDI, which has helped place child protection at the forefront of the national debate. Awareness of child rights in Brazil has grown: the annual number of newspaper articles countrywide focusing on the issue climbed from 10,000 in 1996 to 75,000 in 2001. Prior to this, the media tended to focus on children as perpetrators of crimes, reinforcing existing prejudices and fuelling campaigns for reducing the age of criminal responsibility. There is now a better understanding of the root causes of exploitation and abuse and the importance of child protection.
UNICEF also supported the State of Peace initiative, which aimed to change the way violence is addressed in the media by promoting debate and providing training for student journalists. In 2001, the Initiative was awarded the UNESCO/Imprensa magazine and Roerich Institute media peace prizes.
4. Laws are in place and are reliably enforced. UNICEF was instrumental in the creation of Brazil’s legislative system around child rights, which provides a solid framework for child protection. However, a culture of impunity still undermines enforcement of key laws. UNICEF works closely with a variety of governmental and non-governmental partners to implement Brazil’s Child Rights Guarantee System – a mechanism established for the implementation of the Child Rights Statute. Through this system, any child or family member can file a complaint if a child’s rights are threatened or violated. UNICEF also supported the establishment of police stations and courts specializing in child protection.
5. Children are given the information they need to protect themselves from abuse and exploitation. A key aspect of UNICEF’s work in preventing sexual exploitation of children is mobilizing youths to support this cause. For example, young people trained by UNICEF are speaking out to their peers in schools on the dangers of sexual exploitation. Massive advocacy efforts have succeeded in putting child abuse issues up for domestic debate. Child protection messages were disseminated to communities though the use of multimedia campaigns, including television spots, dance, theatre and other popular media.
6. All those who interact with children – teachers, parents and religious leaders alike – know how to recognize and respond to exploitation. UNICEF has trained health workers, law enforcement officials, social workers, judges and teachers on how to detect and respond to child protection abuses. It is now working with teachers on the social reintegration of children who have suffered abuse, exploitation, violence or discrimination. The aim is to ensure that children who are currently in shelters and institutions are eventually brought back into school.
7. Monitoring systems are designed to identify children who are victims of exploitation and abuse. The lack of reliable data, both at the national and municipal levels is one of the principal challenges in programming for child protection in Brazil. In response, UNICEF is working closely with the government to develop data-collection systems, starting at the municipal level. UNICEF also supports house-to-house surveys to determine the kinds of labour children are engaged in. In Ceara state, for example, UNICEF conducted the largest house-to-house survey to date, which revealed that children were predominantly engaged in agricultural labour (127,455) and domestic work (180,643). Evidence of this spurred the creation of the State Plan for the Eradication of Child Labour.
8. Services for victims of abuse are available. Most recently, UNICEF’s efforts have focused on ensuring that adequate services are available for child victims of sexual exploitation. Toward this end, UNICEF is supporting NGOs specializing in social, legal and psychological care for victims of abuse, including children’s rights defence centres. UNICEF’s support to these centres has paved the way for the creation of a governmental programme called Sentinela, which is providing care for child and adolescent victims of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation. Centres are currently operating in 315 municipalities and continue to receive UNICEF support.
UNICEF’s holistic approach to child protection in Brazil has succeeded in dramatically reducing the incidence of child labour. Between 1995 and 2001, the number of working children aged 5 to14 fell by 1.5 million. UNICEF was also able to bring other key child protection issues onto the national agenda – including the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation.