Unequal youth? – An Insight into Children's Rights in Latin America

Ellena Walker

Our adult lives are, for the most part, shaped around what we experience as children. Access to quality education, health care, and so on, may define what path we choose to take later on in life. For this reason, there is a continuous worldwide emphasis on children's rights. Many large organisations such as UNICEF or Save the Children have been working towards ensuring that all children, no matter their location, receive the same rights and opportunities. For certain regions, such as Latin America, this remains a work in progress.

In 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted. This international treaty marked a historical turning point, setting out a number of guidelines for countries to follow and improve upon. In Latin America, all member states ratified the convention, recognising the importance and value of children in society. From that moment onwards, the region underwent a vast transformation. More attention has been given to the shaping and implementation of policies, and additional funding has been dedicated to the well-being of the young, with public investment in children slowly increasing. In 2013, Argentina and Costa Rica both invested over 8% of their GDP in under 18s. These measures have produced encouraging results, with a number of improvements in areas such as poverty, education and child labour. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) established that in 2002, 60.2% of children aged between 0-14 were in a situation of poverty. In 2016, this number had been reduced down to 46.7%. Although promising, the figures remain high, demonstrating a need to pursue with legislation and funding, in order to ensure that all children, no matter their country, city or community, receive equal treatment in all areas of society.

While progress is being made, many children in Latin America continue to find themselves in precarious situations where their rights are neglected. Human trafficking, including child labour, is ongoing ; for some, education is limited ; and access to basic housing and nutrition isn't necessarily a walk in the park for all. The biggest struggle that appears to be present in most countries of Latin America is that of education. In the 1989 convention, education was recognised as a fundamental right, where primary education should be made compulsory and, as with secondary education, available free to all. In reality, many find themselves with little to no education, or one of poor quality, mostly due to a lack of facilities. In Ecuador, after the formation of a new government in 2008, an attempt to reform the education system was made. The new initiative saw large, high tech 'millennium' schools replace unidocentes (unitary) schools that were located in primarily rural areas. While the new models were being constructed, the smaller, predominantly one or two teacher community schools were closed down, leaving a large group of children without to education. Even when built, the modern schools were out of reach for many, notably after problems with public transport arose, leading to some having to walk 15 to 20 kilometres to reach one. With governmental action not benefiting all children, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have taken it upon themselves to provide the neglected groups with the tools necessary for them to succeed in life.

Education, however, is only one of numerous problems Latin America has to tackle, human trafficking being another example. Many small cities in the countries of the region serve as hubs for trapping children or women into forced labour or sexual exploitation. In Mexico, the state of Tlaxcala is well known for its role in these inhumane activities. Many young girls under the age of 18 are forced into prostitution, entirely passing under the radar of the government.

Every region continues to tackle the issue of children's rights. For Latin America, this process is ongoing. The Convention on the Rights of the Child set in motion a course of events that would contribute to the overall benefit of the young, mostly though improved legislation and funding. Yet, in 2020, there remains a long way to go. COVID-19 highlighted how, in times of need, children do not necessarily receive the necessary protection. Currently, many do not have proper access to health care and in March 2020, around 95% of children were temporarily out of school. In the Western world, we have simply adapted and switched to online education. However, in certain areas of Latin America, this has never been an option. The fight for children's rights must continue, as all deserve the most basic rights, and the chance to enjoy life while it is still youthful.

Sources :

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)/United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Latin America and the Caribbean 30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (LC/TS.2018/21), Santiago, 2018.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics