RELAF participated in the Sub-regional consultation meeting for the Study on the situation of institutionalised children in Latin America. The meeting had the participation of experts, governmental authorities, and referents of the civil society and representatives of the national UNICEF offices, among other key actors from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. The Office of UNICEF Peru was in charge of the local organisation.
The introductory panel on the study had the participation of Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (IACHR) and Nadine Perrault (UNICEF Regional Office). A message by Marta Santos Pais was shared and Javier Palummo presented the methodology used for the study.
Matilde Luna and Claudia Cabral made their presentations during the first panel of experts. The RELAF Project Leader made an introduction by presenting information on the contexts and causes of the institutionalisation of children and the violation of rights that they suffer in the countries of the region. The Brazilian professional presented an outline of the rights protection system and provided information on institutionalisation in her country.
The second panel included the participation of Mayda Ramos (Ombudsman’s Office, Peru), who presented the 150th Report of the Ombudsman’s Office on the situation of children that live in public residential assistance centers, where serious violations of their rights have been proved (available at RELAF's website); María Noel Miguez (UDELAR, Uruguay), who presented a piece of work on the “psychiatrisation” of institutionalised children; and Marisa Graham (SENNAF, Argentina), who, as an authority of the government, presented the advance of a national survey on children and adolescents in alternative care in Argentina, which is currently being carried out by the national government with the cooperation of UNICEF. According to the data showed by the authority, there are more than 13,000 children of all ages living in private and public institutions in this country.
After the plenary session, group discussions were carried out. Three discussion tables were formed: one of them was made up of representatives from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay; the second one, of diverse Peruvian actors; and the third one was formed by representatives from Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela, and was coordinated by RELAF.
Three conceptual axes were tackled: the protection and care institutions, the situation of the children that live in them and the existing policies to support families. The experts of each country provided all the information in relation to the axes and each group made recommendations that emerged from the preliminary analysis that came up from the group survey.
The existence of institutions that care for a large number of children and adolescents during long periods of time and the "naturalisation" of this situation by Latin American societies were of great worry during the consultation. This is also the case in relation with the poverty situation of the families of institutionalised children (poverty continues to be a cause of separation) and the lack of support policies for families to help them properly care for their children.
The consultancy meeting in Guatemala, in which the countries of Central America, Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic will take part, will be held on July 25 and 26. UNICEF Guatemala is in charge of the local organisation, in coordination with UNICEF's Regional Office.
Relaf continues working actively in order to accompany the study. We encourage the members of our network to get involved and contribute to the enrichment of the study, since this is undoubtedly an opportunity to improve the knowledge and to spread the worrying situation of children in residential care in our region. The questionnaires for the governments and the civil society are available at www.relaf.org/est.html.