Urgent call to stop violence in Latin America and the Caribbean
Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg calls for partners to unite and save the lives of children and adolescents
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA, June 2008 - Latin America and the Caribbean has earned the unwelcome reputation of being the region with the highest rate of violence in the world. Levels of armed violence in the region have reached epidemic proportions - 42 per cent of the total number of homicides around the world take place here, fuelled by readily available small arms and a widening gap between the richest and poorest segments of society.
Regrettably, children and adolescents are on the receiving end of violence: The Caribbean ranks first, globally, when it comes to murder rates and claims the highest rates of homicides among young people aged 15–17. Boys are six times more likely to be victims than girls. Over the past five years in Jamaica, more than 300 children, mostly boys, have been murdered, and in the last three years, firearms have been responsible for almost half of all murders of children. In 2005, 418 children were killed in Guatemala, and 322 of those deaths were incurred by firearms. In Haiti, the kidnapping of children has increased exponentially over the past few days and weeks. To date this year at least 50 children have been kidnapped – more than half of them girls. In the first five months of last year, 31 children had been kidnapped.
“Children and adolescents who live in fear, with the sound of bullets and the constant threat of violence as the backdrop to their daily lives, are being deprived of their most fundamental rights: the right to protection, the right to live in an environment free from harm so that they can develop and thrive and, in many cases, the right to life,” said Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
While eradicating the illegal trade in small arms is a crucial component of the fight against armed violence it is important not to view gun related violence in isolation.
“There are close links between armed violence against children and other forms of violence,” said Kastberg. “Witnessing violence in the home or being physically or sexually abused, for instance, may condition children or adolescents to become victims or perpetrators of armed violence and understanding these factors is essential for developing effective policies and programmes to prevent violence.”
Violence weighs on the lives of children and adolescents even if they are not killed or injured by guns. In 2006, the groundbreaking UN’s Secretary General’s Study on Violence Against Children revealed that children are routinely exposed to physical, sexual and psychological violence in their homes and schools, in care and justice systems, in places of work and in their communities. All of this has devastating consequences for their health and well-being, now and in the future.
Violence against children deeply harms not only its victims, but also their families, friends and communities. Its effects are seen not only in death, injury and disability, but also in terms of the quality of life. Armed violence involving young people reduces or reverses economic progress by adding greatly to the costs of health and social services, reducing productivity, decreasing the value of property and disrupting a range of essential services.
“No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable,” said Kastberg. “The more we allow violence to escalate the more difficult it will be to find solutions. Drastic steps are needed to dry up the flow of small arms and light weapons into communities and to significantly increase our level of social investment in vulnerable communities – where guns are often seen as illusory instruments of power instead of symbols of danger.”
Tackling gaping chasms of social and economic inequality in the region is also crucial for a long lasting solution. “We must work on a unified, multi-dimensional approach comprising leadership, adequate resource mobilization, legislative reform, social support networks and early intervention mechanisms,” said Kastberg.
“Preventing and responding to violence against children should be everybody’s business,” he said. “The task is too big for any one actor and the resources too scarce to be wasted. That is why UNICEF is actively cooperating with other UN agencies in search of solutions at the national, regional and global levels. A wide network of partners needs to come forward immediately and provide concrete action if we want to create a path that will lead children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean out of this spiral of death and fear.”
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