PANAMA CITY, 16 November 2006 – In Latin America and the Caribbean, violence transcends cultural borders, class differences, education, ethnic origin or age, and threatens or even kills thousands of children and adolescents. A large part of this violence, which includes physical, sexual and psychological violence, discrimination and abandonment, remains hidden and is occasionally socially sanctioned.
The high level of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean is related to a combination of extreme economic and social inequalities, the predominant culture of “machismo” which characterizes the region, as well as to the failure to implement existing legal protection mechanisms. The tolerance of violence against children in many cases favours the impunity of the aggressors and the lack of real political commitment to put an end to these grave human rights violations. Further, the absence of reliable information-gathering systems hampers any ability to analyse the situation, evaluation of the impact of adopted policies, and calls into question the political commitment of governments to put an end to this unacceptable situation.
These are some of the conclusions of the Study on Violence against Children, launched today at a regional level for Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama City by Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Independent Expert appointed by the UN Secretary General to lead the Study.
The Study documents the nature and the impact of violence against children and adolescents on a global scale within the family, school, detention and protection institutions, workplaces, and the community, and presents general and specific recommendations primarily directed at governments, urging them to take immediate action. The social and health consequences associated with violence represent an annual cost of approximately US$145 billion, or 12 percent of gross domestic product, to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The global Study, presented to the UN General Assembly on 11 October 2006, was conducted at the request of the Secretary General following a recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Some two years ago, a global data-gathering process was initiated in consultation with regional and national analysis, as well as field visits. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations (OHCHR), the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and an advisory NGO panel have supported the Study’s development from the outset.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, two regional consultations were organized, involving more than 300 representatives of governments, civil society organizations, United Nations agencies, academic institutions, experts on violence, as well as children and adolescents. Two regional desk reviews and consultations involving more than 2,000 children and adolescents from 22 countries were conducted.
“We were the voices of those whose voices are never heard. It was a big responsibility for us to be able to take this message of many children that want to be heard, but are not heard because of injustice and marginalization. We could convey that voice to people who, relatively speaking, have the power to change things and break the silence of this alarming situation that we are living around the world,” say Cinthia Karina Reyes and Ondina Lourdes Mazier Chavez, two adolescents from Nicaragua, representing children and adolescents from Latin America who participated in the Study.
The coordination of this entire process was led by the Regional Secretary for the Study, created ad-hoc and composed of UN organizations and international NGOs (World Vision, Save the Children, Plan International, and Defence for Children International). Regional groups, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) organization, have been strategic allies as well helping mobilize the region.
“In this region, around 80,000 children and adolescents die every year as a result of violence within the family. The high levels of violence violate the rights of children and halt the democratic and economic development of the countries. The violence that is lived and learned in the home and the violence that exists in society are intertwined; the transmission of intergenerational violence, which is a grave obstacle to achieve the Millennium Development Goals to create more just and stable societies, has to be stopped,” affirms Nils Kastberg, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The violence that children live is an expression of moral, social and cultural deterioration. The humanization of our societies and the pursuit of protection measures for children are urgent. We as civil society organizations can count on the impressive capabilities of children who constitute a historic force on this continent in this century. This Study compiles their voices of pain and proposals, which we must listen to and incorporate in alternative solutions,” adds Corinna Villacorta, Vice-President of World Vision.
The general recommendations of the study are primarily targeted at governments which have to become proactive with the support of United Nations agencies, civil society organizations, regional organizations, professional associations, communities, parents, and children themselves.
The recommendations include the development of a national strategy of prevention of and combat against violence, which should be integrated into national development plans, no later than 2007, and the appointment of a ministerial-level authority to be responsible for the coordination of such strategy; the legal prohibition of all forms of violence against children, including corporal punishment, and the creation or improvement of national systems to compile disaggregated data by 2009. As throughout the process of information gathering, the Study stresses the need to listen to the opinion of children and adolescents in the design of prevention strategies and protection services as well as the recuperation of victims.
During the consultations in Latin America and the Caribbean participants emphasized the importance of improving legal protection services, maintaining strategic partnerships with the media to generate changes in attitudes and behaviour, and including programmes to reduce and prevent violence in social and economic development strategies.
“All countries can and must put an end to violence against children. This doesn’t mean being limited to punishing the aggressors, but it is necessary to transform the mindset of societies and the underlying social and economic conditions of violence,” concludes Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro.
Those participating in the regional launch, conducted under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic of Panama, include: the Chancellor of the Republic of Panama, Samuel Lewis Navarro; UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg, on behalf of the United Nations; Daniela Salazar, human rights expert from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Deputy Programme Director of the Caribbean Community and Common Market, (CARICOM) organization, Halima Kassim; Vice-President of World Vision on behalf of the Secretariat of NGOs which support the study — World Vision, Save the Children, Plan International, Defence for Children International — and Cinthia Karina Reyes and Ondina Lourdes Mazier Chavez, Nicaraguan adolescents who have participated in the process of the study, representing the region to position themselves against all forms of violence.
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.