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Latin Americans: Dignity Denied to Region's Youth

Latin Americans: Dignity Denied to Region's Youth

by Steve Crabtree

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Latin Americans are far less likely than residents of any other global region to say their countries' children are treated with dignity and respect.

The median proportion of those who respond affirmatively to this question among the 25 Latin American countries studied in 2006 and 2007 is 41%. That's far below the median result for the other three broad global regions; in Africa the median figure is 60%.

This finding is even more striking in light of the optimism Latin Americans usually show about other basic indicators of personal well-being. Latin Americans are, for example, more likely to say they are satisfied with their personal health than residents of any other global region, more likely to say they smiled and laughed a lot the previous day, and even more likely to say they themselves were treated with respect the previous day.

South America and Mexico

The graph lists the percentage of "yes" responses to the question "Are children in your country treated with respect and dignity?" for countries in South America and Mexico. In only four of them do a majority of respondents say children in their country are treated with dignity and respect. The highest figure comes from Venezuelans, of whom 70% feel the country's children are treated with respect. In several of the other largest countries, however -- including Brazil, Argentina, and Peru -- those who do not feel children are treated with dignity and respect outnumber those who do by more than two to one.

Central America and the Caribbean

Among the Central American and Caribbean populations surveyed, Cubans are clearly distinct in their responses: 93% say the country's children are treated with dignity and respect. The country's recent focus on education as a national priority may have influenced these perceptions -- education spending represented 14% of GDP in 2007, more than double the percentage in 1998.

Most other Caribbean nations polled -- including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti -- fall in the lower half of the scale. In Haiti, where 300,000 children work as unpaid servants and many children are imprisoned indefinitely for minor offenses, just 13% of residents say children are treated with dignity and respect -- the lowest proportion found in any country surveyed by Gallup worldwide.

Bottom Line

Why are many Latin Americans, who tend to be relatively optimistic in other areas, so negative about the way children are treated in their countries? Certainly there's no shortage of possible explanations -- in many countries, high proportions of children suffer from poverty and malnutrition, are victims of domestic violence, and are denied basic legal protections.

Nils Kastberg, UNICEF's regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, feels the survey data reflect an emerging dialogue within the region about these problems. Topics such as domestic abuse, he says, were rarely discussed in most Latin American societies as recently as five years ago. Lately, however, children's issues have emerged in a number of countries as a prominent policy concern. Says Kastberg, "The entire region, politically, is recognizing that the rights of youth have not been protected, and that it's time to change that."

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with about 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in each of the 25 countries conducted in 2006 and 2007. For results based on each national sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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