Latin America and the Caribbean: Violence in the Age of Innocence

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are working slowly to overcome barriers in the fight against the often brutal violence suffered by children and adolescents in their homes, schools, workplaces or juvenile detention centers
Five years after the release of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children in 2006, a new study presented Thursday in Paraguay, focused on South America, reports that progress has been slow.
Abandonment, exploitation and corporal punishment are some of the ills that remain part of the day-to-day reality of too many children and teenagers in the region. The new report states that six million children in the region suffer serious physical abuse, and 80,000 die every year as a result of abuse at the hands of their parents.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, nearly 43 percent of girls under 12 who have already had sex admitted that the first time, they were raped. Governments have failed to protect children against all kinds of violence, and the poor and the marginalised are the hardest hit, says the study carried out by experts at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, based on data provided by countries in the region.
The authors also express concern about increasing bullying among peers, aggravated by the use of the Internet and the rise in emotional abuse by parents and teachers, which is largely invisible but causes a great deal of harm by undermining the self-esteem of youngsters, they say.
The Sao Paulo report, which maps the implementation of the recommendations of the landmark 2006 U.N. Study on Violence against Children in the region, was presented at a two-day international meeting that began Thursday in Asunción.
The gathering was organised by Paraguay’s National Secretariat for Childhood and Adolescence and the Global Movement for Children, whose Latin American and Caribbean regional platform is made up of organisations focused on children like UNICEF (the U.N. children’s fund), the YMCA, SOS Children’s Villages, and the Inter-American Children’s Institute.

The authors of the Sao Paulo report say “the real magnitude of the problem is still hidden,” and point to the “high level of social tolerance” towards violence against children. The first South America meeting to follow up on the recommendations of the U.N. Study on Violence against Children has drawn government and civil society delegates, independent experts, and some 60 adolescents.
“The idea never was that the study would be a magic wand that would change the situation,” Paulo Pinheiro, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rapporteur on children, told IPS. The Brazilian expert, who was the lead author of the 2006 U.N. Study on Violence against Children, remarked that it at least helped “increase global awareness about violence.”
He said the region is making progress in terms of integration of policies on children, but lamented the “enormously slow pace” in passing laws cracking down on domestic abuse and other forms of violence against children. “There are no more excuses: Latin America cannot let its children and adolescents down,” he said.
He was referring to the recommendations set forth by the U.N. Study on Violence against Children on the need to pass laws to fight abuse and mistreatment of children and adolescents, which 26 countries in the world – including Costa Rica, Venezuela and Uruguay in Latin America – have done since the report was published. “Governments are reluctant to recognise children as subjects of law,” Pinheiro said. “But countries that suffered dictatorships must now put an end to the ‘dictatorship’ against children within families,” he told the delegates to the meeting.

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