Whilst some studies show evidence that genes may influence antisocial behaviour, various Latin American programs propose, amongst other things, investing in children in order to put an end to violence.
It certainly can’t be said that there is no violence in Latin America, for the CAF (Development Bank of Latin America) shows that figures have doubled in El Salvador, Venezuela and Mexico.
Furthermore, following this trend, Costa Rica and Panama have gone from being safe countries to countries with high rates of instability, and the populations are not taking it quietly. 30% of the Latin American population think that insecurity is the main problem and 60% state that insecurity has risen over the last 5 years.
Over the years, sociologists have reiterated that violence has a negative impact on the emotional behaviour of people. Moreover, in a global and intercultural space, the image of Latin American people has also been affected.
For example, Donald Trump, a presidential candidate for the USA, claims that Mexicans are violent criminals.
But why do people become criminals?
The answer can be found in the report, “For a safer America, a new perspective to prevent and control crime”, put together by both CAF and RED (Economy and Development Report).
According to a study done at the University of Montreal (Canada), three genes could propel young people into becoming delinquents.
But this is not merely a biological issue, if these genes interact with each other, in addition to the effects of family conflict and sexual abuse, the probability of antisocial behaviour would increase.
The studies show that if a pregnant woman is malnourished and exposed to toxic substances, the structure and functioning of the foetus’ brain can be affected. Thus, behavioural problems like aggression are associated with poor nutrition.
Nutritionists never tire of stating how the development of the brain is dependent on good nutrition, with enough iron, certain proteins, energy in the form of glucose, and certain types of fat such as zinc, copper and folic acid playing vital roles.
But it is not just nutrition that is important. Stimulation is vital for the personal development of a child. Between the ages of three and five children develop the abilities to hope, verbally express their needs, and solve problems. These basic actions help to reduce a child’s inclination towards violence.
The report states that a five-year-old child does not commit crime. However, the first years of life are crucial for the development of criminal behaviour. That is to say, children who grow up with emotionally unstable parents are more prone to displaying antisocial attitudes themselves.
According to a comparative study regarding the incarcerated population, the UN Development Program showed that the majority of inmates in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and El Salvador come from violent families and generally dysfunctional family environments.
The organisation highlights a series of studies that come with an aim to diminish violence amongst children and parents. In other words, to invest in childhood to put a stop to violence.
For example, a study carried out in Ecuador, by Paxson and Schady in 2007 helped to understand that a positive relationship between parents and children is vital.
Above all, knowledge regarding the specific needs for a child’s development can help to improve their self-esteem and prevent them from turning to aggression. This program was developed in two groups: professional home visits and workshops for parents in colleges and health centres, amongst other places.
“Nobody is perfect” is another program, which has been ongoing since 2010 in Chile. Workshops are tailored to parents from low socioeconomic backgrounds. In the basic workshop, the parents address issues such as childcare, non-physical disciplinary strategies, supervising a child’s safety, a child’s nutrition, looking after yourself and building positive learning environments.
“Classrooms in peace” was created in Columbia and is aimed at reducing levels of aggressive behaviour amongst children. This program exists in zones where there is a high risk of violence. Specialists guide students, provide workshops for parents and put on diverse sessions to which both aggressive children and children with ‘normal’ behaviour are invited. Only in cases of extreme violence are home visits carried out.
With regards to the penitentiary system, the Salvadorian government has declared seven penalties in a state of emergency and has focused on gang ringleaders in order to disrupt the organized crime that goes on in these areas.
(Translated by Eleanor Gooch)