Friday, March 17, 2006

Child Abuse in Venezuela? - March 17, 2006

Attached below please find translated text from article published on March 16, 2006 on El Nacional newspaper: written by Teresa Albanes Barnola, former officer of UNICEF. Ms. Albanes Barnola criticizes the use of a child to read memorized text in favor of Hugo Chavez on his infamous weekly talk show.


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Written by Teresa Albanes Barnola

Who defends a young girl against the mental and moral abuse to which she was subjected by the Minister of Education, with the smiling acquiescence of the President of the Republic, during the TV broadcast of the most important weekly program for the political promotion of the President?

“no more… that’s enough... Now we are going to be a Latin American power.”

That was how Nazaret, a young girl who turned 8 less than a month ago, ended a speech, lasting more than three minutes, that she recited by heart during the weekly broadcast of Aló presidente (Hello, President) on March 4th this year. Nazaret is in the third grade of elementary school. During her rushed, breathless recitation, the child, no expression on her young face, extolled the work being done by Venezuela to bring about the integration of the Latin American and Caribbean countries… She named, one by one, all the Andean Community countries that will be joining the MERCOSUR member countries, again listed one by one, declaring that “we are but a step away from the implementation of the Bolivarian Alternative… the ALBA.... restoring the dignity and sovereignty represented by the brotherhood, the solidarity, the autonomy to stand up to the interventionism of the FTAA.” Without pausing, she went on to thank God that “there are dignitaries being born... Hugo Chávez, the supreme leader who is putting into practice the words and deeds of the Liberator, something that nobody before him had dared to do.” She went on to say that “Bolivar’s dream is coming true and the collective, visionary and forward-looking project of a single nation is taking shape.” Three times, without batting an eyelash and with her hand held high, she repeated the word “Unity”... Bolivar’s sword is on the march throughout Latin America.” She told her audience that “the obstacles will be many, but by the hand of Hugo Chávez and his counterparts Fidel Castro, Kirchner, and Lula we will build paradise on earth, a better world that God has ready for each and every one of us….”

Venezuela ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. Moreover, Article 8 of the Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents, (LOPNA, in Spanish) stipulates that the highest interest of the child is the governing principle for interpretation and enforcement of the law and must always prevail. The LOPNA confirms that this principle is designed to “guarantee” the overall development of children and adolescents, as well as full and true enjoyment of their rights and guarantees. The behaviour forced upon this child and her parents --Were they even consulted? Did they say yes? Could they object? And, even if they did give their consent, neither the school teacher who picked her, nor the Minister who set the plan in motion, nor even the President who listened with singular pleasure, could possibly consider that this performance by Nazaret, as a fawning political spokeschild, was good for her, was in her best interest or contributed to her development. To have her stand there and, in a performance that was both embarrassingly and jarring, with no expression at all on her face, recite by rote a text that, given its complexity, was far beyond her understanding --but that she had memorized beautifully and repeated word for word-- shows not only a lack of respect for this child but abusive exploitation of her innocence.

All children are granted “the right to personal, physical, psychic and moral integrity“ and, in this regard, “the State, the family and society must protect all children and adolescents against exploitation, ill treatment, torture or abuse or negligence of any kind affecting their personal integrity.…”*

Moreover, Venezuelan law guarantees “the rights of children and adolescents to express their opinions freely and to disseminate ideas.” This, however, as is true of all other rights, is a progressive right, one that is exercised in line with the evolution and development of the faculties of children and adolescents. That is why, in the case of Nazaret, we must ask whether this child, who just turned 8, freely chose what she said and where she said it?

We must also ask, what does the Ombudsman have to say? The defender of the human rights of children? What does the National Rights Council have to say? What do the government and private organizations established for the purpose of defending and promotion the human rights of children have to say?

What do the United Nations’ specialized agencies think of this violation of this little girl’s right to psychic and moral integrity by senior government officials? Is the silence they have kept so far due, perhaps, to fear that any statement could be judged improper scrutiny by international organizations or interference with national sovereignty on issues that are a matter of domestic laws? How hard is it to realize that this type of behaviour is not only inappropriate, but a patent violation of the rights of the most defenceless?

Once more it has been the media and the common citizens who have resolutely assumed their obligations to play an active role in seeking full and objective defence of the rights of children, who have raised their voices in protest, to speak out against these violations. Nevertheless, we are fully aware that this taking on of responsibility will find no echo within the halls of government or the institutions that should, by law, be taking action until we as a society, each and every one of us, the citizens of this country and representatives of the organizations and institutions created to defend and promote the rights of children fully assimilate the idea that children have rights, that each child merits the protection of the law and, therefore, cannot be used to further any interests other than his own dignity, his own psychic, emotional and moral development.

* LOPNA, Article 32.