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At a glance: Costa Rica

Costa Rican students exchange toy weapons for sporting equipment and notebooks

© UNICEF Costa Rica/2008
These children in Costa Rica’s San José province had their toy weapons ready to trade for sports equipment and notebooks.

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, 10 June 2008 – In the Los Cuadros section of Goicoechea, in Costa Rica’s San José province, violence is a major impediment to children’s education.

To mark the Global Week of Action against Gun Violence, which ended on 8 June and was observed in 70 countries worldwide, about 200 children from the Luis Demetrio School in Los Cuadros traded their toy weapons for footballs, volleyballs, Frisbees, hula hoops and notebooks.

“I am going to throw my toy guns into the box so that they can get rid of them because violence hurts people and I don’t want that. We have a better life without guns,” said one of the children, Pamela, 8.

The toy swap was organized by UNICEF with the Ministry of Justice, the Vice Ministry of the President and the United Nations Development Programme.

© UNICEF Costa Rica/2008
Two boys enjoy the toy swap at the Luis Demetrio School in Los Cuadros. The stickers on their shirt read ‘Guns? No thanks!’

Cooperation brings results
The Ministry of Justice is in charge of the government’s violence-prevention efforts, which include the creation of a National Consulting Committee to take action in areas of high firearm proliferation, such as San José, Limón and Garabito.

The committee has also proposed reform of the law on firearms and explosives, to help check gun acquisition throughout the country.

At the Los Cuadros event, Vice Minister of Justice Mayela Coto noted that cooperation between local grassroots organizations, schools and the government helps prevent all forms of gun-related violence. “The communities that have successfully joined together are seeing positive results,” she said.

© UNICEF Costa Rica/2008
Pamela, 8, traded her toy gun for a Frisbee and a hula hoop.

Children pay the consequences
Effective gun-violence prevention relies on early sensitization for children, particularly in areas where the rising availability of firearms has made the population less secure.

“Violence breeds more violence, and it is not fair that children pay the consequences,” said UNICEF Representative in Costa Rica Seija Toro.

“Children have the right to study and play, while the rest of us must guarantee their rights and provide the necessary opportunities for their full development,” he added.

‘Guns? No thanks!’
At the toy swap, students watched a video presentation about the dangers posed by guns and the importance of conflict resolution through open dialogue.

“Guns are bad for children. We shouldn’t touch them and if we ever find one, we have to tell the police or our teacher,” said Giharina, 9, after the presentation.

Besides commemorating the Global Week of Action, the Luis Demetrio School activities were part of ‘Guns? No thanks!’ – a joint government-UN initiative to prevent gun-related violence. Similar events have taken place at other schools in Costa Rica’s most violence-prone areas.




6 June 2008: UNICEF Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg speaks about the need for new strategies to deal with gun violence in the region.
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