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Indigenous Children from Latin America demand their rights at Madrid meeting

Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain participated in the Ibero-American Meeting whose Final Declaration will be presented at the Ibero-American Ministerial Conference on Children and Adolescents in September

MADRID, 8 July 2005 - “We are boys, girls and adolescents belonging to 34 indigenous peoples; we are creators, bearers and transmitters of our cultures whose contributions to humankind contribute to coexistence, diversity and peace. But we live under conditions of exclusion, marginalization, racism and discrimination that prevent us from developing as human beings and full citizens with specific rights of our own.  We want to participate in the building of a more just world,” stated the participants in the Ibero-American Meeting on the Rights of Indigenous Children and Adolescents, which ended today in Madrid.

Education, health and nutrition, special protection, identity and culture, and children in the urban environment, were some of the issues addressed during the meeting that brought together children and adolescents from 17 Latin American countries and 34 indigenous ethnic groups in Madrid. Education and health were the topics that received the most attention. Exercising their right to participate, the young people demanded that governments take their cultures and traditions into account in fulfilling their rights. “Indigenous children want to participate and be the development of every country,” said 16-year-old Yolanda Cupil of the Mayan people of Guatemala.

“The children have asked for an intercultural education of good quality that respects their vision of the cosmos,” stated Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Only by starting integration from the first years in school can we overcome the consequences of centuries of exclusion and discrimination,” he added. Intercultural, bilingual education was the theme of the working group attended by Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain. During the discussion, young people from Argentina, Ecuador and Belize presented the problems that children face on a daily basis in school and proposed that their cultures and traditions be promoted by teachers and included in the curriculum. The children also asked for school systems to respect and incorporate their languages and clothing, to ensure access to technology and decent classrooms and facilities.

The discrimination faced by indigenous people in schools is clearly reflected in the case of Bolivia, where a child or adolescent who speaks an indigenous language has twice the probability of repeating a year compared to a Spanish-speaking student. Another example is Guatemala, where the repetition rate among indigenous students is 90%.

“The fight for a fairer world is a moral obligation of governments, but also a goal for everyone,” said Leire Pajìn, the Spanish Secretary of State for International Cooperation, during the final day of the Ibero-American Meeting.  He stressed that the Spanish government will increase the support it provides for the indigenous peoples of Latin America.

The indigenous children and adolescents also reminded governments of their obligation to ensure their peoples’ right to health. In the Final Declaration they demanded that governments “ensure that we have access to high quality health care and nurturing of our full physical, mental and emotional development, incorporating our traditional healing traditions and medicines.” In Latin America, health indicators such as maternal mortality rates, number of hospital births and immunization coverage are consistently worse among indigenous peoples than among non-indigenous populations. In some indigenous communities in Brazil, for example, 99 out of every 1,000 children do not reach their first birthday, while the national average is 27.

“Now I’m beginning to believe that things will get better and that indigenous children will have better access to health programs,” said Giselda Fera, of the Guaraní people, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, at the end of the meeting.

In the Final Declaration, the children and adolescents addressed governments, organizations, indigenous movements and leaders, as well as international agencies, demanding the fulfillment of all their rights.

Protection against mistreatment, child labour, exploitation, armed conflicts and all kinds of abuse is another demand included the final document, which will be presented at the Ibero-American Ministerial Conference on Children and Adolescents, to be held in September in León, Spain.

Some 100 indigenous leaders from Latin America, together with representatives from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, members of several UN agencies and representatives from the Spanish International Cooperation Agency (AECI), participated in the meeting, which was organized by the UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Panama City, with assistance from AECI and the UNICEF National Committee in Spain.

For further information, please contact:

Elena Crego, UNICEF Spain, (34) 91 378 95 58. Mobile: (34) 629 47 63 80, ecrego@unicef.es

María Blanco, UNICEF Regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, (507) 315-7485, mblanco@unicef.es




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