SAN SALVADOR – Children in Latin America are prey to violence, especially to sexual assault, Jose Bergua, child protection regional adviser for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told EFE in an interview.
The official said that hardly any government in the region gives the deserved priority to curbing violence against children and teens, which he said is yet another reason why minors migrate from their countries.
The UNICEF regional adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean, currently in El Salvador for the 22nd Regional Conference on migration dubbed “Migrant Women,” said that “sexual violence is a matter to which governments have paid little attention,” though the situation is frightening enough to force more and more girls, from tots to teenagers, to flee their homelands.
UNICEF estimates that 1.1 million female minors have been subjected to violence at some time in their lives, from sexual abuse, rape and kidnapping to forced recruitment by street gangs and organized crime, which, according to Bergua, “weighs so heavily on these youngsters that they choose to emigrate.”
Faced with this problem, the expert said that one of UNICEF’s great challenges is to dispel the “invisibility” suffered by abused underage girls.
He also said that Latin American countries seem unconcerned about collecting information that would help UNICEF and other international organizations have access to data on the main problems in this area.
Bergua noted that “governments must establish powerful information systems” that will help “raise visibility” of the cruel realities these minors are going through, and which would allow countries to have all the “elementary data needed to eliminate the problem.”
“The more specific information we obtain, the better UNICEF can decide on the kind of policies it should launch to eradicate this type of violence,” he said.
Bergua recalled that little girls and female adolescents, before becoming victims of violence, migrants, refugees or applicants for asylum, are girls “who ought to be defended by their governments,” which are duty-bound to protect their human rights from being “trampled on.”
Between Nov. 27-30, El Salvador hosted the 22nd Regional Conference on Migration – “Migrating Women” – in which UNICEF discussed and recommended measures for protecting female minors.
At present, the member nations of the Regional Conference are Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic.