... continued 

There are 94,165 children between the ages of 10 and 16 engaged in productive work; that is, approximately 17 percent of the economically active population.  While this percentage may seem high, it must be viewed from the perspective of the Dominican Republic's high unemployment rate.  The country reported on its measures to reduce the number of abandoned children and protect minors from exploitation.  The relevant legislation declares it the responsibility of parents to look after their children for the good of society.  Any parent who fails or refuses to provide such maintenance is liable to a two-year prison sentence.  Special measures were adopted for the protection and education of "gifted" and handicapped children, and centers established to help rehabilitants juvenile delinquents.  Sanctions against work-related restrictions and abuse of women and children were set forth in the Labor Code and were the same as those applied to adult males.

          Regarding the right to an adequate standard of living, the report declares that the right to housing and the right to a proper diet were guaranteed by the Constitution.  However, there was a yawning gap between the constitutional provisions and their actual application.  The Government was doing everything possible to guarantee the effective exercise of those rights.

          The rate of construction of housing for low-income families had risen considerably, despite the fact that the country was faced with a high rate of population growth.  The Rent Control law was passed in 1959 to protect tenants from possible abuses.

          As regards the right to a proper diet, various United Nations agencies, including the FAO, provide technical assistance for agriculture directed mainly at food production.  There is a national institute responsible for price stabilization and distribution of food to families with few economic resources, which also acted as an agricultural financing and loan agency.  Attempts were being made to supply the entire country with electricity and drinking water.

          With reference to the right to health, the report indicates that the Government body responsible for health promotion is the Secretariat of State for Health and National Insurance.  Its task is to look after the population's health and implement social assistance programs for people with scant resources, who are provided with free medical care within the social security system.  It was also indicated that there were public hospitals spread out across the country, depending on the population density of each region, and that a chain of "people's pharmacies" has been set up for poor people.  A number of endemic diseases, epidemics, and tropical diseases have been successfully fought.  A compulsory and systematic program of immunization and vaccination has brought down the mortality rate considerably.

          In education, the 1983 illiteracy rate stood at l.33 percent, although the number of persons with reading and writing difficulties is much higher.  The purchase of primary school textbooks is subsidized by the State, and primary schoolteachers receive periodic salary rises by way of incentive.  The total number of students enrolled in secondary and higher education exceeds 1,884,300, of whom 1,297,000 are enrolled in the first cycle, 463,000 in the second cycle, and 123,700 in the third.

          In its report for 199l, Costa Rica indicated that it had promulgated in 1991 a bill for promoting equality among men and women, which had made for significant changes in the status of women in Costa Rican society.  This legislative reform had been designed to establish a program of action to eradicate any form of discrimination against women in Costa Rica, especially against their participation in the political life of the country, their access to a variety of jobs, particularly in the civil service, equality in marriage and in working conditions.  The bill provides for the establishment of a special department for protection of human rights, whose sphere of competence includes the protection of women's rights.

          On February 4, 1990, the nationwide and local general elections--the tenth since 1953--were held, and the transfer of power was smooth, once more confirming Costa Rica's tradition of democracy.

          The country's political, legal, and socioeconomic scene is especially geared to the democratic spirit, freedom, and independence.  A number of legal provisions guarantee full equality of all citizens in the eyes of the law and prohibit any form of discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, family situation, political opinions, social origin or economic status.  Costa Rica has 2.6 million inhabitants, including 9.5 of African origin and 4,400 indigenous people.  The black communities enjoy all the rights recognized by the Constitution and other national laws.

          On the subject of the indigenous communities, the report states that they live in national reservations set up by the government for the protection of the fauna and flora, covering about 11 percent of the country's territory.  Within those reservations, the indigenous inhabitants are entitled to use the waters and all natural resources, except for wood, and are trained to raise cattle and reap their harvest, and may sell any surplus outside the national reserves.  Although the indigenous communities are taught in Spanish during their seven years of schooling, an attempt has been made to introduce Bribrí as the language of instruction during the fourth part of the period of schooling.  Consideration was also given to a project for taking a census of the Indians and issuing them with identity cards in order to speed up the economic and social development of those communities.  The report pointed out that identity cards were the same for all Costa Ricans, regardless of their ethnic origin.

          As part of the government's program to promote the setting up of small enterprises, bank loans are offered to the Indians, who were originally reluctant to be issued with identity cards, but with that incentive they were starting to request them of their own accord.

          On the economic front, the weight of the country's foreign debt has placed severe constraints on its development.  Although its gross domestic product (GDP) grew by approximately 3.5 percent in 1989, the major economic problems were what put the brake on development.

          The inflation rate fluctuates between 18 and 20 percent.  Foreign debt service accounts for 27 percent of GDP, which does not prevent the government from allocating half of the national budget to the solution of social problems.  However, social spending per capita had declined in recent years as a result of enormous demographic growth, making it necessary to adopt a number of measures aimed at improving education, health, nutrition, vocational training, and housing.

          It was reported that the unemployment rate had declined in the five-year period from 1985 to 1990.  The National Learning Institute and the Program for secondary education by correspondence provide technical and vocational training for adults.  Government authorities and the University of Costa Rica are engaged in a joint effort at promoting programs to help create jobs and provide technical training for the unemployed.  The Ministry of Labor and Social Security organizes programs of short-term communal jobs or other work for the unemployed and handicapped.  Also, an attempt is being made to reduce the unemployment rate by offering incentives for foreign investment in Costa Rica high-level labor instances were approached to encourage workers, protected by the Labor Code, to present complaints in cases of abuse or violation of their rights.

          It was also reported that the mechanism used to determine minimum wages are geared to controlling the rate of inflation and maintaining the workers's purchasing power.  Thus, salaries were adjusted once a year based on the increase in market prices.  In the private sector, salaries were determined by the National Salaries Council, composed of representatives of the private and public sectors, and of the professional associations and trade unions.  Salaries in the public sector were established by the Public Sector Negotiating Committee, comprising representatives of the public administration and of the trade unions.  Collective negotiations had resulted in 240 agreements between 1980 and 1988.

          The right of workers to form trade unions is recognized, since the ILO treaties concerning that right have been ratified.  The right to strike is recognized in Costa Rican law, and trade unions have the right to form themselves into federations and confederations.  The proportion of the active public sector labor force belonging to a trade union was 82 percent, and 48 percent of those in the private sector.  However, emphasis was placed on the dramatic drop in trade-union membership since 1985.

          With regard to social security, national legislation establishes that employers are obliged to provide individual and collective insurance for all their employees.

          In so far as protection of the family is concerned, Costa Rica legislation recognizes the family as the natural and basic unit of society, and it is given special protection by the State.

          The right to an adequate standard of living is basically controlled by the Office of Public Welfare.  This government body is responsible for enhancing the living standards and welfare of families, single mothers, and children, and for coordinating assistance programs for families and minors.  Housing problems provide financial incentives, and between 1978 and 1990 some 200,000 families benefited from housing schemes, and is expected that by 1994, between 80,000 and l00,000 more families will benefit.  As a result, home ownership is becoming more accessible by the day to more and more low-income families, and rents are relatively low.  The 1939 Rent Act was revised a little while ago, and now provides tenants with special protection, especially protection against loss of their homes.

          The laws governing the right to health contain provisions that regulate the structure and functioning of medical care and efforts to combat disease.  Virtually all infectious diseases -including malaria, leprosy, and tuberculosis- have been eradicated, and a program has been put in place to fight AIDS and other contagious diseases.  Life expectancy was 73.7 years in 1988, as opposed to a mere 65.6 years in 1965.

          The education system provides general basic education, primary education and the first three years of secondary education.  Education up to that level is free and compulsory.  Also provided are short civic education courses for children to teach them about the various international human rights instruments, and the way in which Costa Rica's laws and institutions function.

          There are four major university in Costa Rica, and 65 percent of students receive scholarships.

          In conclusion, it is evident from the information obtained from the country reports studied as a representative sample for the hemisphere, that notwithstanding the efforts accomplished by the governments of the region to implement economic, social and cultural rights and ensure their enjoyment by the people of their respective countries, in practice enjoyment of those rights is significantly restricted by the particular capacity of each Member State to carry out large-scale implementation programs.

          Nonetheless, efforts continue.  On December 12 and 13, 1991, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, was the site of the IX Central American Presidential Summit.  Out of that meeting came the "Declaration of Tegucigalpa" wherein the region's political, economic, and social challenges and potential joint solution were examined.

          The adverse economic and financial situation that prevails in the hemisphere makes it very difficult for member states to comply fully with the provisions of the pertinent international instruments.  Member states are therefore urged, despite the aforesaid difficulties, to step up their efforts to achieve a minimum level of development.  It is evident that in many cases poverty is a wellspring of political and social conflict that transcends purely economic considerations, and it is hence internationally recognized today that "the new name of peace is development."

          Indivisibility of enjoyment of human rights, civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural, is hence a priority factor in seeking to resolve the problems that beset the hemisphere.

          For that reason, as indicated at the beginning of this preliminary report, it is urgently recommended that those Member States of the Organization that have not yet done so ratify the Protocol of San Salvador and thereby equip themselves with a valuable instrument for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the hemisphere, at both the national and the international levels.


I.          Background

           Resolution AG/RES. 1112 (XXI-0/91), on "Strengthening of the OAS in the Area of Human Rights", adopted by the General Assembly at its Twenty- First Regular Session, recommends, inter alia, that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights devote special attention to and report upon respect for the rights of minors in the hemisphere.

          To enable it to comply with that recommendation, the Commission requested the member states of the Organization to furnish such information as they deemed appropriate on the progress achieved and the difficulties encountered by them in seeking to secure implementation of the rights indicated in the Resolution, together with the texts of legislation enacted and the jurisprudence of national courts concerning to them.

          The present Annual Report of the Commission will devote special attention to the issue of the rights of minors, in compliance with the recommendation contained in the said Resolution.

          To that end, the report on this topic will present, in turn, general considerations with respect to the situation of children in the hemisphere; a brief analysis of the new framework consequent upon the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child under United Nations auspices; and a report on the information furnished by those member states that responded to the Commission's request.

II.       Human Rights of Children

          Protection of the human rights of children has become an issue of priority concern in the hemisphere.  Although the issue is not a new one, its importance has sharpened in recent times, with children becoming the victims of violence, torture, forced labor under slavery conditions, sale for adoption purposes and in some circumstances forced organ donation, and armed hostilities in which they are often compelled to take part.

          With the object of reaffirming and consolidating the rights of children at the international level, on November 20, 1989, the thirtieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This Convention, which entered into effect on September 2, 1990, represents a true step forward in the recognition of those rights.

          The reaffirmation in the Convention of a wide range of basic rights eliminates any doubt that might remain concerning the place of the child in international human rights law.  The Convention moreover serves a didactic purpose in that it underscores the evidence of international consuetudinary law.

          The child is seen not just as an object of the right to special protection but as a subject of all the rights recognized by the international rules as "rights of persons."

          Another important feature of the Convention is that it embodies certain rights previously recognized at the declaration level.

          With regard to application of the Convention at the national level, the signatory states undertake, by ratifying it, to respect the rights recognized in it and ensure their application to each child under their jurisdiction and to take all necessary administrative, legislative and other measures to give effect to them.

          The Convention has so far been ratified by 107 countries.  Of these, 29 are OAS member states:  Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.  Four other OAS member states have signed the Convention:  Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, Saint Lucia, and Suriname.  Two member states have not so far either signed or ratified the Convention:  the United States, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

III.        Children in Particularly Difficult Situations

          1.          Exploitation of children:

          The drama being lived by 40-50 million children[1] on the streets of the large urban centers of the Latin American countries is aggravated in some cases by the extermination and torture visited on minors by death squads and the police themselves.  Most of these victims are boys, girls usually being subjected to sexual abuse.

          Abandoned children on the streets are also vulnerable to drug addiction, sexual abuse and delinquency.

          In investigations of cases of violence committed against street children the perpetrators typically go unpunished.  However, according to information received by the Commission, some countries are taking steps to remedy that situation.

          The major causes of the increase in the street-children population are the growth of the urban centers, the external debt problem of the developing countries, the droughts that trigger the flight from the land, civil wars, deterioration of the environment, AIDS and the growth of the population, especially in the case of adolescent girls, unmarried mothers on the streets, victims of prostitution.

          In Latin America 7 percent of children aged 4 to 10 years[2] work under exploitive conditions harmful to their physical, mental and moral development.  These 10-14 year old children are generally concentrated in farm work, domestic service and urban services sectors where it is very difficult to detect abuses of this kind.

          Forced labor exposes these children to conditions that inhibit their growth, such as unsanitary conditions, excessively long working hours, insufficient pay (if any), malnutrition and total lack of access to education. The most deplorable feature in these cases is that the governments themselves sometimes tolerate irregularities of this kind.

          Articles 32 through 36 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child deal with what is referred to as protection of the child as a victim of labor exploitation (Article 32), illegal use of narcotics (Article 33), sexual abuse (Article 34), abduction or sale of children (Article 35), and all other forms of exploitation (Article 36).

          2.          Juvenile delinquents:

          Delinquency is one of the biggest risks faced by street children.  While they are still small, children find sympathy among people who see to their immediate needs.  But this no longer happens when they grow older and need to turn to other resources to ensure their survival.  It is at that stage that children under 18 can easily turn into delinquents.

          This gives rise to the problem of lack of criminal liability of minors when they come before the state justice system.  Most countries have courts that specialize in the area of minors and family, on the principle that a minor's problems involve the entire core family.

          A child deprived of liberty must not be held incommunicado or in an institution for adults.  The prison system is today a basic factor in embarcation on a career of crime because, just as the prison applies programs for the correction of offenders, so does it use mechanisms that consolidate delinquency.

          Articles 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child refer to children accused of having committed some crime (juvenile delinquents).  While Article 40 applies solely to children accused of violations of criminal law, Article 37 concerns children that have been deprived of liberty supposedly for some reason.

          3.          Children involved in armed hostilities:

          The most direct effects of armed hostilities suffered by children are on their physical or mental health.  Because of the wars many children have been killed or crippled by bombing, minefields, firearms and torture.

          Adolescents, the chief victims of arbitrary recruitment, find themselves directly involved in hostilities and usually, because they live in remote and not easily accessible areas, have less chance to find protection.

          Psychological traumas in children, though less visible, have just as severe an impact.  They are found in children that have lost their parents or siblings (often murdered before their eyes), have witnessed massacres in their villages or have been abducted, threatened and struck.

          Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for the protection of minors in armed hostilities.  Paragraph 1 of that Article provides as follows:  "States Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child."


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[1] Childhope Foundation figure.

[2] International Labor Office figure.