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Regional perspective on the impact of the pandemic on violence against children

By Luna Mazzilli, DCI-Regional Desk for the Americas                                                                                                                    
 

In May, Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the Health Emergencies Program of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared Latin America as the “new epicentre” of Covid-19. Three months later, the American continent continues to be the most affected by the pandemic. To reduce infections and reverse the coronavirus curve, most of the States in the region have implemented containment measures.

These measures have had a strong impact on people’s lives, encouraging – among other factors – stress and anxiety, the uncertainty of unemployment and the consequent economic tension, which have become a real trigger for violence in already national contexts, already fragile and often politically unstable.

In this panorama, children and adolescents (NNA) are being the silent victims of “the new normality”. The evolution of poverty, the reduction – often interruption – of basic and essential services, the closure of schools, etc., are systematically threatening the exercise of their rights on a scale never experienced before. But it does not end here: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed its deep concern about the increase in violence against children that is taking place in the region, especially highlighting its intensification in the home environment¹. The data on violence against children and adolescents are alarming: the Public Ministry of Bolivia Public Ministry of Bolivia has reported that between March and mid-August, 388 cases of rape of infants, girls, boys and adolescents were registered in the country², while in Colombia, during the first weeks of quarantine, an estimated 51 girls were sexually assaulted each day³.

Given the limited contact of children with informal protection networks such as friends, teachers, relatives and members of the community, it is essential to double efforts and strengthen protection systems to face this problem, in the best interest of the child. In the current context, protection systems have seen their capacity to provide an adequate response to victims diminished. In this regard, Dr. Juan Fumeiro, Vice President of Defence for Children International (DCI) in the Americas, has expressed his concern about what this situation implies in the region, stating: “The confinement determined by the pandemic, among other things, has exponentially increased the level of violence and abuse against children and the lack of a prompt response from the mechanisms for receiving complaints, investigating and protecting them, accentuates the possibility that these events remain unpunished “.

Given the consequences that the pandemic is generating against children and adolescents, DCI through its 8 National Sections located in the Americas region, has launched concrete responses, strengthening its programs for care services for children and adolescents based on the needs identified in each national context. Thus, DCI Costa Rica has launched, in addition to its permanent “Mano Amiga” telephone line, the “DNI Te Escucha” (DCI Listens to you) lines and is providing socio-legal assistance services to the population. In the same sense, DCI Argentina has adapted the work carried out by its Socio-Legal Defence Center (SLDC) to the new context, continuing to provide legal defence and psycho-social support to children in person or remotely, depending on what merits the specific case.

On the other hand, and with the aim of strengthening the SLDC’s response, over the past few months, DCI has strengthened coordination with the public defender’s office, in order to improve the protection situation for children and adolescents who are victims of violence. The successful operation of the SLDC in Argentina was built on the basis of the care model developed by the DNI Movement and its purpose is to provide advice and protection to children and adolescents, ensuring their access to justice. DCI is promoting the installation of new Centers in other countries of the region, where our organization has representation.

Finally, the National Sections of DCI, in order to provide greater protection against this problem of violence faced by children and adolescents in the region, is promoting the implementation (and ratification where appropriate) of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure (also known as third Protocol, OPIC), since it represents an important tool for those children and adolescents who, not finding protection in domestic law, can direct their actions before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. By the way, the DCI National Sections are also focused on promoting and disseminating this third Protocol, to empower girls and boys and other civil society organizations about its scope.

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¹Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “IACHR warns about the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in children and adolescents”, press release, April 2020.

²Attorney General of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Crimes of Law 348 from March to July 13, 2020.

³International Plan, “Violence against girls and adolescents in Latin America seriously increases due to confinement”, June 202

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