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Plan to eradicate violence against children
George Rodríguez
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Initiative addresses early exposure to violence and develops strategies to prevent risk factors.

Violence against children in Costa Rica is having a rising trend as is reflected in National Children’s Hospital (HNN) records which show a rise from nine to 26 in daily cases of children victims of physical abuse treated by that public medical center in the 2006-2013 period. This kind of violence takes on different forms in a wide range that goes from physical aggression to family fighting, and includes negligence and emotional abuse among other expressions.

Precisely four years ago, as the upward trend became an obvious reality, the United Nations (UN) called Costa Rica’s attention about the phenomenon, and recommended action including a plan to prevent violence against children and adolescents.

This Central American nation’s government headed by then-President Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014)  — the first, an so far the only woman to hold the post in the country’s history — began working in that direction, with initiatives such as the National Child Care and Development Network, for working mothers’ children.

And immediate successor Luis Guillermo Solís’ administration (2014-2018) stepped up the work, producing a new tool: the National Plan for the Development of Strategies to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Boys, Girls and Adolescents.

Drawn up by the National Childhood Board (PANI), public institution that safeguards the welfare of children, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the 130-page document contains five core areas and eight priority actions to be carried out during the 2017-2019 period.

The areas refer to Family and protection, Comprehensive health and healthy practices, Education and opportunities for life, Peace and coexistence, Territory and local development.

In the first case, it addresses the home environment, “where there is an early exposure to violence,” thus focusing on “developing a doctrine of comprehensive protection (…) of the rights of Persons Under Age,” states the plan released on Sep. 8.

The second core area aims at a “public health approach in prevention” of violence through projects that promote healthy lifestyles, and also emphasizes on “the need to develop strategies to (…) impact adolescent pregnancy, sexual violence and trafficking [in persons] as risk factors in violence against boys, girls and adolescents.”

Actions aimed at prevention
The Education area highlights the school environment’s role in violence prevention which includes joint responsibility with families, while the peace and coexistence component aims at “solving diverse processes of daily and inter-personal violence,” through “projects that implement dialog and coexistence processes.”

The Territory and local development item refers to improvement of the community environment by means of implementing initiatives through the “design of safe spaces seeking to prevent crime opportunities and interrupt the different types of predatory violence girls, boys and adolescents suffer.”

The priority actions for implementation in each area include prevention in fields such as violence among children in education centers, sexual violence, commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, and initiatives for protection of children’s and adolescents’ rights in overcrowded homes, promotion of dialog processes, supporting community prevention projects, among other initiatives.

In a country of just over 4.6 million people, around 1.3 million (some 30.5 percent) of which are children and adolescents, the most frequent cases of violence against children reported last year to PANI through the 911 emergency line included physical aggression(8,200), neglect (7,677) — mostly health neglect (7,523) —, sexual abuse (1,915), use of drugs (1,802), psychological abuse (2,563).

The wide gamut of violence types has led UNICEF to refer to “the different violences against childhood”, as Gordon Jonathan Lewis, the specialized agency’s representative in Costa Rica, told Latinamerica Press.

“One of the things we’re promoting is a change in the language paradigm we’re using,” he explained. “Instead of using the greater framework of ‘violence against childhood,’ studies are already specifying ‘the different forms of violence against childhood’: neglect, aggression, physical, mental and psychological abuse, sexual abuse, gender-based violence.”

“This allows us, then — and it’s well-documented in that plan —, to specify strategies according to the different forms of violence. Thus, a strategy for the eradication of gender-based violence isn’t the same thing as a strategy to eradicate psychological violence and emotional violence,” Lewis added.

Sexual violence against children
The UN’s concern about the local situation was voiced early this year, by Alice Shackelford, UN representative in Costa Rica, Paula Antesana, United Nations Population Fund (UNFA) representative, and Lewis, specifically regarding sexual violence against children.

“We call on society, State institutions and families to exercise their duties within the country’s legal and regulatory framework to prevent and punish any expression of violence against boys, girls and adolescents,” they were quoted as saying in a UNICEF statement issued on Feb. 25.

“It is imperative that Costa Rica assure fulfillment of the right of every girl, boy and adolescent to live in a healthy environment and free of any type of violence, mostly within their family and community, which should be spaces of growth, trust, respect and protection against the different violences toward this population,” they added.

The press release also included data from the National Statistics and Census Institute according to which, in 2014 and 2015, almost 1,000 girls under 14 gave birth. According to official information close to 500 persons had been sentenced in 2014 for some type of sexual violence against children.

In this regard, Lewis told Latinamerica Press that “we’re reporting situations of more sexual abuse — particularly against girls —, and we see that in a rise in adolescent pregnancy rates.”

“So, our observation and our recommendation is: this is the moment, fundamentally, to act, for all of us to get moving, because it’s a situation which both the National Children’s Hospital and Pani portray as an epidemic,” the UNICEF official said. “We’re saying: ‘it’s not long, if not much is done, for this to become a social emergency’.”

Asked about how to address that risk, Lewis said the national plan is the obvious first step, and “it’s very important because of the fact that it documents strategies on a short, medium term, for a period from 2017 to 2019, in different areas of intervention.”

“We’re proposing there has to be a social transformation process,” he added. “The attitudes leading to an adult’s violent behavior toward a child, or an adolescent’s toward another child, are based on social practices and values. They must be changed.” —Latinamerica Press.


Presentation of the national plan to prevent different forms of violence against children and adolescents. /Presidencia de la República de Costa Rica
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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