The children

The Situation of Children in Bolivia

The Situation of Women in Bolivia


The Situation of Children in Bolivia

© UNICEF Bolivia/2003
Taking care of the children of Bolivia means being committed to national development.

Children and adolescents constitute almost half of the total population in Bolivia. National poverty incides directly on their living conditions. While progress has been achieved in the areas of health and education for children, there is still much to be done to improve living conditions for Bolivian children.

According to the 2001 Census, Bolivia has 8,274,325 inhabitants. 45 per cent are children and adolescents aged under 18. There are an estimated 1,529,689 children aged under 6, with a majority living at risk with respect to the vulnerability of their rights. This population lives in rural and peri-urban areas, where indigency and poverty cause a low level of physical, mental and cognoscitive development (INE 2001 projections).

In Bolivia a culture of respect for child rights does not yet exist. Daily life reflects the perception of children as being objects and their parents' property. A large part of the population still considers it normal to smack or beat children to discipline them and make sure they respect their elders.

Children and women are the groups most affected by high national levels of poverty. According to the 2002 Poverty Map, 2.5 million children and 2.6 million women live in conditions of poverty. The causes of mortality in children aged under 5, according to the Ministry of Health, are directly associated with poverty. Also, 36 per cent of these deaths occur owing to diarrhoeal diseases, 20 per cent owing to acute respiratory infections, 16 per cent owing to perinatal problems (related to childbirth) and an estimated 28 per cent owing to malnutrition.

Steps forward

Despite this situation, progress has been achieved in the fields of health and education:

According to the latest data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the mortality rate for children from 0-1 years old (U1MR) has fallen from 76 per thousand liveborn in 1998 to 60 per thousand liveborn in 2002 (INE 2002 projections).

According to data from INE (ENDSA 1998) and the Ministry of Health (2002), the mortality rate for children aged under 5 (U5MR) demonstrated a tendency to fall, between 1998 and 2002, from 92 per thousand to 79 per thousand liveborn, respectively.

The net matriculation for primary education increased from 82 per cent in the period from 1990 to 1996 to 97 per cent in 2001(SIE 2001), without significant differences existing in terms of gender.

The net matriculation for secondary education increased from 38 per cent in 1990 to 51,1 per cent in 2001(SIE 2001).

A lot to improve

Despite everything, there is still a lot to be done to improve the living conditions of children and adolescents:

Fifity per cent of children aged under 1 and 12 per cent of children aged from 0-9 years old lack a birth certificate (CPNV 2001-INE). The causes of this lack of registry are of an economic and cultural character: the cost of obtaining a birth certificate is high, and there is a lack of information on the benefits of registering children. A child whose birth is not registered does not exist in the eyes of the state and therefore does not have access to the basic services and rights guaranteed by law.

An estimated 616,000 children and adolescents work (INE 2002). The economic crisis, lack of employment and, definitively, low family income oblige many children and adolescents to work. These children prematurely have to assume responsibilities which do not correspond to their age, and frequently are exploited at work. Also, work impedes many children from attending school. Only 39 per cent of working children continue their schooling, while 4.3 per cent have never gone to school.

While research has not been carried out at national level and therefore there is no exact figure for the real number of street children, it is estimated that over 3,700 children and adolescents live on the streets, in the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Tarija and Sucre. This constitutes a grave social problem in Bolivia, and is on the increase. The living conditions of street children are very harsh, affecting their physical, psycho-social, cultural and economic development. Street children are highly vulnerable to falling into inhalant (glue), drugs and alcohol consumption, delincuency and prostitution. There are also children who since birth are condemned to live on the streets: these are the so-called "street families", adolescent parents living with their children on the streets.

According to data from the Viceministry for Children and Adolescents (principally based on data from the 2001 SNPV Survey, INE and UDAPE) some 9,200 children and adolescents live in homes for orphans, abandoned and disabled children. A study carried out in 1999 by the Ombudsperson covering 32 State-run children's homes showed that the child population here is very mixed. Children enter the homes for various causes, such as "vagrancy", lack of economic resources, or as victims of sexual abuse or mistreatment … and, on the other hand, the homes themselves do not have a suitable infrastructure or staff trained to assist them in their needs.

According to a nationwide study on abuse in schools carried out by Child Defense-International (CDI-Bolivia), 50 per cent of children suffer physical punishment on some occasion, and 6 per cent suffer this constantly at school. Also, there are at least 100 daily cases of sexual attacks on children within schools. Indiscipline, unfinished homework and learning difficulties are some of the "causes" of mistreatment within schools. Here we may indicate that 82 per cent of students affirm they have suffered mistreatment owing to learning problems. On the other hand, 40 per cent of teachers consider it necessary to apply physical punishment and praise it as effective.





Demographic, economic and education indicators

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