Foto: INAU

What are Latin America and Caribbean students’ thoughts on education and other human rights?

November 11, 2019

Por: Fabíola Munhoz y Thais Iervolino

Find the points of view of boys, girls, adolescents and young people from different countries in the region, which were shared during the 22nd Pan-American Child Congress

Overcoming discrimination and violence, the right to play, art and recreation, gender equality and the right to comprehensive sexuality education and to participate in the debates on public policies affecting them: these were some of the demands shared by boys, girls, adolescents and youths during the 22nd Pan-American Child Congress and the Third Pan-American Child Forum that were held from Oct. 29-31 in Cartagena (Colombia).

As one of the three component bodies of the Inter-American Children’s Institute (IIN) of the Organization of American States (OAS), Pan-American Congresses have been considered important forums for dialoguing, thinking and sharing experiences among the States from the region. On the one hand, in these encounters the advances, challenges and country commitments towards the development of policies for children and adolescents are made visible; on the other hand, the agreements made in such Congresses have informed the elaboration and implementation of policies and laws regarding childhood and adolescence across the region.

Simultaneously to the Congress, the Third Pan-American Child Forum was held, bringing together delegates from 12 to 18 years of age, from 14 countries in the region: Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay –, to discuss key issues from the authorities encounter and share their respective demands with governments. The subjects being stressed were: violence against girls, boys and adolescents, the right to participation of girls, boys and adolescents and how to guaranttee the existence of comprehensive systems of protection of rights for children and adolescents.

Rights, participation, leadership and no discrimination

Boys, girls and adolescents (NNA, for its acronym in Spanish) participating in the Forum and the Congress highlighted the importance of recognizing all children and adolescents as rights holders. They demanded their right to participation, their freedom of expression and their right to be heard. Equally, they demanded their right to receive adequate information to empower themselves to know and defend their rights, in all municipalities and communities.

For the boys, girls and adolescents present, families, society, communities and the media are key players in preventing the misuse of policies aimed at ensuring and protecting the rights of children and adolescents. 

In that sense, they demanded their right to democratic participation and to take the lead in political decision-making processes; they also asked [States] to give priority to the definition and development of systems of protection and public policies aimed at childhood and adolescence. “Laws promoting NNA participation and making it effective are necessary”, they claimed.

In order to make their participation effective and egalitarian, they demanded the overcoming of the adultcentrism and the reconsideration of methodologies and dynamics of hearing and encouraging NNA participaton. In addition, they demanded the overcoming of gender inequalities or barriers limiting participation in public debates. 

They claimed that, in order to fully achieve their rights, there must be coordination between different levels of government, family education and sensitization processes, mechanisms to finance and monitor public policies and the construction of intersectorial, non-discriminatory systems to promote rights, prevent violations and protect people against violence. 

It was stressed that the debate on policies focusing on childhood and adolescence must include not only NNA living in capitals and urban contexts, but they also must take into account the contributions from more distant populations – rural, indigenous, migrant populations and people with disabilities.

Against violence and repression

The right to protection and participation of girls, boys and adolescents who are rights defenders was also stressed, since they are many times victims of repression, criminalization, violence or intimidation. 

A call was made for preventing and eradicating digital crimes against NNA and for their protection against discrimination, violence and harassement, especially within education centers.

They stressed as urgencies: overcoming poverty and ignorance; promoting more empathy, tolerance and respect in relationships; the development of transnational plans to ensure the rights of migrant girls, boys and adolescents.

The right to education, to rest and to have/be a family

Girls, boys and adolescents also demanded the right to receive comprehensive sexuality education, gender equality education, as well as the right to information, social integration and family. On this point, they also demanded respect to the rights of LGBTQ families and to their right to have/be families, what may secure the opportunity of having a family for many girls, boys and adolescents waiting for adoption.  

“We want to know, live and feel our rights”

Emphasis was also put on their right to play, to rest and to recreate, [on their position] against child labor, abuse and trafficking, as well as on their right to access and enjoy cultural and artistical activities as part of their education process. “We want to know, live and feel our rights”, affirmed Mexican students.

In addition, they asked for an education that makes sure they receive information on their rights and on their social and political context, allowing them to participate as citizens and agents of change in their communities and the society.

Recommendations on participation

Authorities, activists, girls, boys and adolescents attending the Congress recommended the institutional and meeting-related operations were more receptive and accessible, with real impacts of girls, boys and adolescents participation in policies and changes affecting their lives since early childhood. 

The need to develop other forms of students’ participation and expression and to rethink how their suggestions and contributions are being negotiated was another shared recommendation. Networks and platforms connecting adolescents and youths, which are being structured at national, regional and international levels were pointed out as an interesting model, to support and facilitate their coordination and mutual learning.

They also approached the need for a change in governments and civil society organizational culture, in order to put at the center the participation and the needs of girls, boys and adolescents. 

The necessity of a coordinated work with families and the community, and of having adults sensitized and trained to respect and ensure the rights of boys, girls and adolescents and, in turn, to ensure their participation were also recommended. 

During the debates, it was pointed out that the recognition of NNA participation as a right in itself has advanced, but it still needs to be secured in practice, as a universal axis to the implementation of structures that enable effective participation – not mere consultations, but conversations from which it will be possible to take into account and turn the recommendations from NNA into concrete actions. The dialogue and participation should be built from the experience of children and adolescents; age should not be a condition for hierarchizing; and ethnical, cultural, gender, origin, territorial, race and other diversities should be respected. 

Systematizing good practices and experiences of dialogue that break the adultcentric view, giving feedback to policies and getting back to the NNA with the results of their hearings was recommended as well.

The necessity of investing public fundings to promote the participation of NNA, their families and communities in political debates and decision-making contexts and processes was equally mentioned. Training adults to share power, to be respectful, to mutual hearing and the development of associative methodologies and structures to facilitate dialogue and participation are fundamental, as they highlighted. 

Other recommendation was creating and strengthening national, regional and global spaces of participation for NNA and flexibilizing civil society mechanisms of participation at the United Nations, so NNA can be heard by this human rights body.

Recommendations to overcome violence and discrimination

The importance of accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.2, to end the abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against girls and boys, was underlined. The girls and boys situation of vulnerability within the criminal system (for example, the ones living in prisons with their parents or the ones whose relatives are in contexts of incarceration), suffering stigmatization and discrimination, especially in education centers, invisibilized and not having their rights respected were reminded. 

They mentioned school as a key center to approach stigmatization and discrimination against boys, girls and adolescents and also the necessary coordination between systems of protection of rights, Justice and penitentiary systems.