The continent’s children and young people are the most vulnerable members of society, most affected by the high rates of criminality and inequality recorded in countries in the region. Seven out of ten murder victims come from this age group. The Prisma’s Memoirs. September 2012.s
Latin America and the Caribbean are two of the most violent regions in the world, with the highest rates of criminality. The dictatorships and authoritarian regimes that governed the countries over the last decades in those regions left ‘a situation where there is a permanent perpetuation of violence’, derived from the constant violation of human rights that has not slowed down even now, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
South America is also one of the most unequal regions in the world. The high rates of poverty and social exclusion determine the daily lives of many citizens and, in particular, of young people.
It’s estimated that close to 40% of Latin-American children and teenagers live in poverty, along with another 15 million who suffer extreme poverty and live on less than a dollar a day.
Unicef estimates that there are 106 million citizens between 15-24 on the continent, who are the foremost victims of an environment which links poverty, violence and inequality, making them the most vulnerable players in a hostile scene.
The seriousness of the situation for this new generation has reached a point where young people are the victims in seven out of every ten murders that occur on the continent, according to data from the IACHR. Specifically, in the Caribbean, the statistics are frightning: violence is the primary cause of death for the age bracket of 15-24.
The global figures for juvenile mortality in the region also reflect the impact of violence. The death rate is 40 per 100,000 inhabitants, while in the rest of the world the figure is 8 in 100,000 among children and young people.
So say two reports released this past July by the human rights organisation: ‘Juvenile justice and human rights in the Americas’, from 2011 and ‘Citizen Security and human rights’, from 2009, which reported on the worrying situation for the next generation in Latin America.
Every day, 220 young people under the age of 18 die as a consequence of the violence they suffer in their homes: some 80,000 fatalities per year, according to the figures from Unicef.
Moreover, some 6 million children and adolescents suffer severe abuse and are abandoned in the region each year.
Males are at greater risk of being beaten at home or at school, while females are more exposed to suffering from sexual abuse from a family member, a friend from school or a colleague.
Further, around 30% of the population of 12 to 14 year-olds live with risk factors, such as dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, drug addiction and problems with the authorities every day.
Other risk factors for vulnerable teenagers are exploitation from adults, being taken in by gangs or organised crime, recruitment into forced labour surrounding drug trafficking and armed conflicts, as well as being uses for sex work and child pornograpy.
Thus, as a consequence of the cocktail of poverty, inequality and criminality with which many children on the continent live, day after day, violence becomes established in the lives of young people, not only as victims of it, but as executors of that same violence.
There are two types of violence that are emerging in Latin America and the Caribbean with the involvement of children. The first is the development in the drug gangs or ‘maras’.
For example, in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras alone – the so-called ‘triangle of violence’- there are between 25,000 and 125,000 young people integrated into these violent gangs.
Secondly, the phenomenon of violence in schools is also spreading in Latin America: in a poll conducted in the schools of six capitals in Brazil, 84% of students consider that their school is violent and 70% admit that they have been a victim of violence in a place of education.
At the same time, the role of the police does not help as they often discriminate against young people, making selective arrests, choosing those who appear to look either poor or from a minority.
According to expert reports, the role of the security forces and of the overall structure of the nations do not help end to the cycle of violence, neither with preventative actions nor using sanctions towards those who commit crimes.
Public opinion on the continent is already taking into account the sense of violence drifting though Latin American countries to the point that, for the first time in decades, delinquency has displaced unemployment as the population’s primary concern.
(Daniela Fetta – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)