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First Decade of the Infancy and Adolescence Law: More words than realities

After 10 years of the Infancy and Adolescence Law coming into effect, the balance is still unfavorable.

On one side the law has contributed to spread the rights of children across the country and produced some institutional developments; it has also provided a new script over infancy and adolescence and produced the appropriation of funding directed towards guaranteeing rights and placed pressure on authorities to take action to warrant these rights. However, the work performed in the opinion of some analysts show that the change has been more words than actual facts.

“The spirit of the law has not permeated society” recently said an academic expert.

Both popular culture and institutional culture are still adult-centric and are far from recognizing the rights of children as individuals.

Proof of this is that on the same week that an event took place to analyze the law, 10 workers of an institution for the protection of disabled children were charged with torture and conspiracy to commit a crime. Neighbors of the institution had constantly heard screaming children and had not reported it to the authorities.

Official figures demonstrate the persistence of serious violations to the rights of children. On October 11th, during the celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child, authorities released a report showing that between January and August of 2017, there were 17,713 new cases of abuse of girls, of which 6,127 were sexually related (42 a day).  All these cases were inputted into the Colombian Comprehensive Protection Care System.

Although this chilling figure shows a slight decrease with respect to the 8,800 cases reported in the same period of 2007, when the law was issued, it still shows that Colombia has a great debt with its infancy.

There are still inequalities in education and healthcare

Regarding warranting other rights, such as the right to education, there are significant advancements in indicators such as educational coverage. Currently, children over 5 years of age have on average 7.5 years of education.

However, there are still great disparities: In urban areas, the average is 8.2 years and in rural areas, it is scarcely 4.9 years. Despite these advancements, currently, there are more than 800,000 children and adolescents not included in the educational system.

Regarding education quality, progress is also slow as shown by national and international test results. The results of the PISA 2015 tests show that although there is a slight improvement with respect to prior results, 43% of Colombian students do not exceed the minimum reading comprehension levels, 48% do not exceed the minimum science levels and 66% do not exceed the minimum math levels.

In healthcare, there is a significant improvement in infant and early childhood deaths, but there are still important gaps both urban and rurally as well as between ethnicities (general infant mortality is 11.2/1000 while for indigenous communities it is a soaring 23.83/1000).

During this period teenage pregnancy has decreased, but not that of girls between 10 and 14 years of age. Murders for children under 18 have fallen but suicides have increased.

Malnutrition has diminished, although ethnicity, social class, and regional differences still persist in this regard. According to the 2015 Nutritional Situation Survey, growth retardation (chronic malnutrition) in children under 5 was 10.8% in the general population but almost three-fold (29.6%) in indigenous populations. Furthermore, there is still drama for deaths due to or linked to malnutrition, which up to week 40 of this year, were at 151 cases, although the rate diminished from 14.87 in 2007 to 6.82 in 2016.

Insufficient funding for public policies

With respect to public policies, due to the infancy law, municipalities and provinces should now have laws and policies in place to address the issues encountered in the survey.

However, these policies have limited budgets and in most municipalities and provinces these issues are not a priority. Between 5% and 8 % of the municipalities do not even comply by formulating a policy.

The Infancy and adolescence law did not solve the traditional breach between national, provincial and municipal infant policies. There are still competency collisions and duplicity of actions between national institutions, decentralized entities, and local institutions, limiting the possibility of having comprehensive public policies.

The amount of Social Services Agencies has increased all around the Colombian territory, although there is limiting budgets due to political patronage (clientism).

Furthermore, the creation of an Infancy and Adolescent Police Task Force has been important to provide initial care of rights violations.

Care subcontracting

Despite that the law has the spirit of prioritizing care to families in violation scenarios there are still a lot of private institutions which care for children and teenagers with temporary protection measures, such as those proclaimed for adoption.

There is also care subcontracting to institutions of varied characteristics and qualities which not always guarantee the rights of children. Another important step has been the issuance of an early childhood policy, with budgetary allocations and a management structure.  Although coverage increases have not been significant, there is an important improvement care quality, infrastructure and quality of the human resource.

In regards to adolescent penal responsibility, the law includes positive changes towards effective rights guarantees. However, there was a counter-reform provided by the Administration through Law 1453 of 2011, increasing punishment for adolescent lawbreakers and imposition of jail regulations to specialized care institutions.

The conditions of institutions that care for juvenile delinquency are in most part deplorable and the trend is to still criminalize poverty.

Analysts are concerned about the fact that the established in the law code is not being enforced. Several of its articles are dead letter, because they have not been regulated or because counter-reforms have been issued due to institutional decisions and rules or many state agencies and social actors do not recognize or comply with their comprehensive protection responsibilities.

State control agencies partially supervise compliance with rules established by the infancy law, but violations and nonfulfillments are not penalized. Public agencies do not have the necessary funding to enforce the policy; there is lack of leadership and lack of comprehension and appropriation of the philosophy of the law from those who should enforce the law.

The Administration continues to postpone the establishment of a monitoring, follow-up and assessment system to continually follow through of the rights and enforcement of the obligations established by the law.

Although the success of a long-term policy is to prevent any violation, there is still much to do for this to come to fruition.

Therefore the 10-year balance is bittersweet; the country seems to be indifferent to the fate of its new generations, particularly of those most vulnerable, compromising not only the future of these infants but that of all Colombian nationals.


 * This article gathers academic expert, civil society and government analyses, summoned by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia Social Studies Center´s Infancy and Adolescence Observatory to provide a concerted balance over the Infancy and Adolescence law in Colombia.

Consejo Editorial