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How Paraguay’s executive puts the rights of the child at the centre of government

Public commitments have led to legislative reform and strengthened response services for child victims

For too long, preventing violence against children has rested on the shoulders of NGOs, civil society and philanthropists. Political will – and the robust institutions required to drive change – has waxed and waned. Now, in Paraguay, the highest levels of government have committed to 20 wide-ranging commitments to protect children, and built the institutions required to turn promises into policy.

According to a 2015 study by UNICEF and the NGO Beca, six in ten Paraguayan children and adolescents have suffered physical or psychological violence. 

35% of those affected have suffered severe physical violence. Due to underreporting, the true figure may well be higher. 

“Society sees violence as a big problem, but there are some social norms around corporal punishment that need not one or two interventions, but a progressive implementation of policies at the highest level,” said Victor Vidal, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Paraguay. 

In 2013, the Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes signed up to the 20 Commitments to Children and Adolescents, a list of pledges on issues ranging from infant mortality to access to education. Commitment 15 explicitly enshrines the prevention of violence: “To promote the protection of boys, girls and adolescents against all types of violence, mistreatment and abuse.”

The document was drawn up by a range of NGOs during the 2013 elections and offered to candidates to sign. Leveraging political pressure worked. As Vidal noted, “When one candidate signed the commitment, the others couldn’t refuse.”

The commitments are more than political posturing, however. The bodies responsible for implementation are in the upper levels of government: the National Secretariat for Children and Adolescents (SNNA) resides within the executive branch of government directly under the President. Other bodies, including the Front for Children and the Department for Active Participation – an arm of the National Secretariat and one of the first bodies in South America tasked with bringing the voices of children and adolescents into policymaking – also work to keep the commitments in motion.  

The commitments have seen tangible successes. In 2016, the Government ratified Law No. 5659, “Of the Promotion of good treatment, positive upbringing and protection of children and adolescents against physical punishment or any type of violence as a method of correction or discipline.” Effectively a ban on all forms of corporal punishment, whether at home or school, the legislation is, in Vidal’s terms, “very comprehensive.”

Another shift has come in the form of response services. Budget increases have seen updates in training methods, the hiring of more staff, and the building of interdisciplinary teams of psychologists, doctors and social workers to respond to cases of violence. 

The key in translating promises into policy, it seems, is the accountability at the heart of the commitments. Every August 16th, “The Day of the Child” in Paraguay, the President and senior ministers face questions on their progress in meeting the commitments from the press, NGOs, campaigners and adolescent advocates. Civil society and government effectively spur each other on to eliminate violence against children. 

With new elections in 2018, children’s rights bodies are drafting a new set of commitments to maintain political pressure to go even further on the violence prevention agenda.

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