IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. – On the Day of Children and Adolescents in the Americas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern about persistent sexual violence against children and adolescents in educational contexts in the Americas. The Commission calls on States to address the structural causes of this form of violence, by adopting prevention and eradication measures with a gender perspective in the field of education.
According to UNICEF, 14% of all children and adolescents in the Americas have suffered some form of sexual violence, and schools are common scenes for these events. Through its monitoring efforts, the IACHR found that more than 3,900 cases of sexual violence had been reported in Ecuador's schools over the period 2014–2022. According to official data, the Education Department in Bogotá (Colombia) received 2,667 alerts between the beginning of 2022 and May 31 concerning alleged cases of sexual violence against children in various contexts (homes, educational facilities, social media, the community, etc.). In Paraguay, 150 cases were reported in the first four months of 2022. Mexico's Office to Defend the Rights of Children said in its 2021 report that 21 educational institutions throughout the country had shown patterns of violence and cases of sexual exploitation over the course of that year.
The Inter-American Commission also notes State efforts to address this serious problem. The IACHR acknowledges the creation of an interinstitutional platform to eradicate sexual violence from schools in Ecuador and the development of a specialized multidisciplinary team to investigate and monitor these cases in Colombia. Mexico adopted guidelines to prevent, detect, and address cases of sexual violence against children and bullying and ill-treatment in primary schools, as well as a protocol to prevent sexual abuse against children and adolescents. Paraguay released a guide for institutional intervention to address violations of sexual and reproductive rights.
Despite the measures adopted by several countries in the region, challenges remain to implement effective action in this field. The IACHR has stressed with concern the persistent social norms and patterns that make various forms of sexual violence invisible in educational contexts and favor their recurrence and impunity. The culture of silence that covers up or tolerates abuse to protect the perpetrator or the reputation of the affected educational institution, the lack of comprehensive sex education policies, and stereotypes that blame victims affect the continued presence of children and adolescents in the education system. They also affect reporting processes and redress measures, meaning that these cases are underreported.
The IACHR further notes that sexual violence has a disproportionate impact on girls and female adolescents, who are more exposed to suffering various forms of discrimination and violence which affect their access and permanence in schools. Dropping out entails increased risks of violence and criminal activity, particularly for girls and female adolescents from poor socioeconomic backgrounds. The IACHR therefore calls on States to take measures to eradicate structural discrimination factors—like machismo, patriarchalism, and gender stereotypes—that tolerate and perpetuate gender-based violence against girls and female adolescents.
The IACHR report notes that the right to education requires the adoption of positive measures to ensure that educational institutions are free from violence. It is essential to provide the human, financial, and technical resources needed to develop and implement programs and protocols for prevention, early detection, response, and accountability, with adequate punishment for perpetrators and assistance for victims. Further, in the case Guzmán Albarracín et al. v. Ecuador, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights stressed that, as a prevention mechanism, States need to provide good-quality sex education that grants children and adolescents the tools they need to identify risks and instances of sexual violence. The issue was also addressed at the hearing on access to education on sexual and reproductive health for children and adolescents in Ecuador, held during the IACHR's 183rd Period of Sessions in March 2022.
In the context of the Day of Children and Adolescents in the Americas, the Commission urges States to recognize the need to guarantee education that is free from all forms of violence for all children and adolescents. States should also take action to change the structural backdrop that legitimizes and encourages violence, particularly sexual violence.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.