Child Protection

Special Protection

Prevention of Child Abuse


Child abuse: a painful reality behind closed doors

At the end of 2009 the UNICEF office for Latin America and the Caribbean circulated edition number 9 of its “Challenges” bulletin, which was dedicated to providing an overview of the scale of violence against children and adolescents.

Although most of the countries in the region are signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose article 19 sets out the obligation of the States Parties to “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child”, forty million people under the age of 15 in Latin America and the Caribbean suffer violence, abuse and neglect.

This edition of “Challenges” reviews the research conducted on the prevalence of child abuse in selected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, it points out that its results are not comparable because the methodologies used need to be standardized.

Nonetheless, the findings that stand out include the fact that in countries like Bolivia and Chile, a high percentage (83% and 75% respectively) of those surveyed admitted to having received physical and psychological punishments during childhood. In Uruguay 82% of those questioned reported some forms of violence against a child in their household. From the Dominican Republic the finding was that “physical abuse is, in 48% of cases, the form of correction most commonly used by parents”, according the latest survey conducted in 1997.

The information from the Caribbean countries, while mentioning the lack of recent data available, stresses the common use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in all countries in the region. “It has to be highlighted that this ‘behind closed doors’ conduct is also reflected at a social level, because Haiti is the only country in the Caribbean that has laws banning this practice, which gives an indication of the legitimacy it enjoys”.
In the region, more than 50% of adults, women and men, think that it’s normal to use abuse against minors as a form of education and punishment.
The publication includes an article titled “What is the scale of child abuse in Latin America, its main causes and the priority that governments should give it”, by Dr. Isabel Cuadro Ferré, a Colombian psychiatrist and board member of the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, which states that the main causes of child abuse have not changed much since 1962, when they were defined as: Parents with a history of psycho-emotional deprivation, neglect or physical or sexual abuse during their childhood, the child is perceived as not worthy of being loved, existence of a family crisis and the family is nuclear, isolated from community support systems.

The challenges ahead
The Global Study on violence against children, a Study by the United Nations Secretary General against Violence against Children, presented by Sergio Paulo Pinheiro, (2006), states that “no form of violence against children is justifiable and all violence is preventable”, and that the challenge that is being set is to bring an end to child abuse, which will involve “changing the mentality and the culture that enables violent behaviours as forms of education”.

This will require the implementation of effective policies defined on the basis of precise and reliable data about the scale, the characteristics, the risk and protection factors, and the impact of violence against children. It will also require prevention policies, “which are currently absent from the experiences of the region”.



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