The following report was written by María Mercedes Paredes L., Community Psychologist and Director of the Nueva Vida SOS Children’s Villages Social Center in Bogota, Colombia.
“By turning children into victims we create the danger of exposing them to constant violations. A rights-based perspective which strengthens organizations and individuals who help children AND empower the children themselves, can bring about a radical shift in this understanding and thereby encourage changes in practice. It is not possible for institutions to adopt such a perspective when at the same time they persist in calling street children “beneficiaries” of institutional interventions or “vulnerable” children. We need to understand that children are entitled to their rights and that rights are no good that can be bestowed or received at will.
In Colombia there are thousands of children living on the streets and thousands more living ‘in between’ their home and the streets. Estimates of their number in Bogotá swing wildly from a conservative 2,500 to a staggering 110,000 (UNICEF).
Under these circumstances, the right of the child to life and personal development (Art.6 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) commits the government, the family and society in general not only to assuring the survival of children, but also to supporting them in their social bonding. This can be achieved by providing training and leisure opportunities, involving them in the construction of their own culture and, above all, by offering them affection as a basic requirement for their development.
We are duty-bound to set limits to rights violations and take efficient and convincing measures to contribute to a change. Children have to know that food, clothes, education, respect, affection and recognition are not handouts they receive in a situation of social exclusion, but instead to what they are entitled. Children are protected when they are given back their rights and when risk situations are known and preventive measures are taken. Possible integral protection measures range from offering training to caretakers to accompanying families in strengthening their relationships and supporting families in improving their financial situation.
The Nueva Vida SOS Children’s Village Social Center, which developed out of the need to protect street children, took this path in 1990 and focuses on preventing child abandonment. The program, which aims at strengthening families and setting up the necessary structures within the community, finds new ways for strengthening and educating children. One example of this approach is the Assembly, which holds meetings and provides a space for recognition, participation and discussion for the 7 to 14 year-old children of the program. In a participative process, the social center, the families and the children assume joint responsibility for restoring, promoting and defending the rights of the child.”
– María Mercedes Paredes L.
Community Psychologist, Director of the Nueva Vida SOS Social Center in Bogotá, Colombia