In line with its policies on children’s rights and welfare, Venezuela is forging ahead with measures aimed at bolstering the protection afforded its children under the law
Among developments recently undertaken by Venezuela, the 1st International Congress on the Return of Internationally Abducted Children – staged under the auspices of the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ, to use its Spanish acronymn) and attended by international and domestic experts alike in order to debate this delicate subject – stands out.
In agreement with Carmen Porras, who is the vice-president of the Social Affairs division of the Court of Appeals and Annulments, as well as national coordinator of child protection, the event was envisaged with the aim of sharing knowledge and standardising policies internationally in respect of the return of children who have been removed from their rightful country of abode.
According to the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, when a child is illegally removed from their usual country of residence, co-signatories of the convention must “secure the immediate return of the minor from the [said] co-signatory nation in question.”
Passed in 1980 in The Hague (Netherlands), the convention was signed by Venezuela and incorporated into its 1999 Constitution.
In so doing, Venezuela became one of the 74, – 11 of which are located in South America – co-signatories of the Hague Conference on Private International Law and is a participating member of its Agreement on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
With this in mind, the president of the TSJ, Gladys Gutiérrez underlined during the course of the Congress, that the Venezuelan State has always been a staunch defender of human rights, especially those of minors.
In fact, Venezuela boasts one of the most exhaustive legal frameworks regarding the protection of minors, Gutiérrez stated, adding that its Constitution recognises children as full legal subjects with corresponding rights under the law, and its Constitution includes strong provisions for both State and society to staunchly defend these rights.
For their part, international experts who attended the event such as the official Latin American conference liaison lawyer, Ignacio Goicoechea, also reiterated Venezuelan achievements in this area, stating that the country “has the most progressive legal framework [in this regard] in the region.”
According to the Argentinian legal expert, Venezuela’s Organic Law on Child Protection (LOPNA under its Spanish acronymn) leads the way in this area of legislation.
LOPNA came into force on the 1st of April, 2000 and its aim is to ensure that Venezuelan children are free to exercise their rights fully, aided by the combined protection afforded them by the State, society and family from the moment they are conceived henceforth.
In addition, Goicoecha highlighted the fact that Venezuela is already using state-of-the-art technology to solve cases of child abduction, and praised it for its huge achievements such as its legislative reforms on children’s human rights.
Indeed, the Congress focused on the effectiveness of the current systems in place in the individual countries for implementing national policies aimed at ensuring the safety of illegally abducted children abroad.
Venezuela’s achievements regarding minors’ welfare and protection are, in fact, far wider ranging than this in practice, and have been bolstered by 14 years of the socialist Bolivarian Revolution, through a series of welfare policies undertaken by the State in a variety of areas and on a range of levels.
The reforms and social programs introduced immediately after the election of the late president, Hugo Chavez, in 1999 – who died on the 5th of March of this year – have had a favourable effect on the current quality of life enjoyed by the Venezuelan people – particularly for underprivileged or vulnerable members of society, including children.
This can be seen when comparing the situation regarding children without proper identity credentials: when Chavez took office there were almost 800,000 of them.
Now, a system for granting identity which is free of charge has been established, and the moment a child is born in hospital, they are designated their official identity credentials upon discharge and immediately recognised as citizens with full rights.
Equally, in the area of child hunger, over the past 14 years the Revolution’s government has managed to introduce effective policies which have brought down rates of child malnutrition by around 40 percent.
As a result of government measures, the child nutrition index has risen to 97.1 percent, and the percentage of malnutrition cases has fallen to just 2.9 percent of the child population: the lowest historical recorded level for the country according to statistics provided by FAO, the UN’s food agency.
As a consequence of these policies – recognised and duly awarded by the FAO – the average height of Venezuelan children has risen by 2.1 cm (about one inch) and 98 percent of them receive milk each day.
Equally, five million children benefit from free school meals through the School Meals Program, compared with 1999 when only 250,000 were in receipt of this benefit.
In terms of education, the number of children in school increased from six million in 1998 to 13 million in 2011 which equates to 93.2 percent of children of school age being in education, and thousands of schools have been newly built or renovated.
To date, the Bolivarian government has, in addition, provided around two and a half million Canaimitas (free dedicated Linux software for use across Venezuela’s public services) computers to pupils mainly of primary school age, and a similar number are expected to be made available to bolster learning among older pupils and expose them to the latest technologies.
At the same time, great strides have been made in the area of public health, where the infant mortality rate fell from 19.1 cases per thousand live newborns in 1999 to just 10 in 2012, representing a 49 percent reduction.
The National Program for Mother-Infant Care stands out with respect to these achievements. Called “Mission Baby Jesus”, its primary role is to ensure that the correct conditions are provided for pregnant mothers to carry their babies to a happy and healthy term, with the appropriate medical and instructive care on hand, all delivered within the context of a fair and just society where everyone is looked after.
And, there are other notable initiatives, such as Venezuela’s Great Child Mission whose main objective is to provide help and financial aid to families and mothers – whose income falls below the minimum wage – of children under the age of 18 or with disabilities.
And this is not to mention all the other missions and social programs introduced by Chavez and continued under President Nicolas Maduro, which are proving beneficial across all areas of a society where children form the bedrock upon which to build a stable, harmonious and progressive future for the nation.