UNITED NATIONS - The regional office of Unicef for Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where youth homicide rate exceeds twice the world average, introduced Monday an initiative to reduce violence in schools and ensure quality education for children and teens.
"Millions of girls, boys and adolescents wonder every day if they will even be able to reach their schools, if they will be safe during their school day", says a report, launched along with the initiative and titled "Strong Schools and Communities Initiative: Working Together to Build Safe Schools and Protective Learning Environments."
According to the report, the presence of delinquents, gangs and weapons in schools encourage absenteeism and, in many cases, causes millions of children in Latin America to drop out of school.
Moreover, extortion of teachers and students, along with theft and damage of school property, prevents access to education, and leads to fear and adverse psychological consequences, lowering the quality of teaching as well as learning.
Unicef is supported in this initiative by two important partners - the Global Business Coalition for Education, and World at School.
The report was launched at a ceremony, attended by education ministers of El Salvador and Costa Rica, Carlos Mauricio Canjura and Sonia Marta Mora respectively; first lady of Panama, Lorena Castillo de Varela, and Guatemalan businessman Salvador Paiz.
The initiative was launched earlier in New York during the Up for School global event, which brings together young people, business leaders, teachers, civil society and religious organizations from across the world to make education a priority in the new global development agenda.
"Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest rate of armed violence of any region in the world and is the only region where lethal violence increased between 2000 and 2010. In the last two decades, homicide rates have increased 5-8 times faster than in Europe and Asia," says the report.
"The youth homicide rate is more than double the global average - 70 per 100,000. While this violence affects everyone, the most lethal violence disproportionately affects young males both as perpetrators and victims," it adds.
Therefore, Unicef and its partners point out, "Avoiding arms in schools is key to the development of a safe learning environment", proposing, among other measures, the creation of "S.O.S call centers" to allow anonymous complaints against such incidents.
They also suggest coming up with conflict resolution and peaceful coexistence programs "to help children develop a greater capacity to dealing with differences in a non-violent manner, and can facilitate reintegration for children out of school".
The report urges people to take part in creating safe learning environments and highlights the importance of collaborating with children, adolescents and their families.
it also outlines what each of the stakeholders - students, families, teachers, authorities and businessmen - can do to achieve safer educational environments with the help of successful case studies from various Latin American countries and stresses that it is the duty of all countries to make security in schools a national priority.