Press Release

IACHR Presents Report on “The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family. Alternative Care. Ending Institutionalization in the Americas”

February 19, 2014

Washington, D.C.—Since it was created, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has taken different steps to ensure that the rights of children and adolescents in the Americas are promoted and protected. In this context, the IACHR is presenting its report on “The right of boys and girls to a family. Alternative care. Ending institutionalization in the Americas”. The report addresses an issue of particular concern in the region—the situation experienced by children who, for various reasons, do not receive proper care at home and require measures on the part of the State to ensure their well-being and overall development. Institutionalizing children continues to be a common response to these situations in the countries of the region, although evidence shows that the way many residential institutions currently operate does not guarantee that the rights of the children who are put in them are protected, and exposes them to situations of violence, abuse, and neglect.

In this report, the IACHR first of all analyzes children’s right to live and be raised by their families, and establishes the resulting obligations for the States when it comes to supporting and strengthening families’ ability to raise and care for their children. In that regard, the IACHR states that there is no traditional or limited concept of family, as that would interfere with people’s right to a private life. Moreover, the Commission understands that different types of family ties exist in today’s society.

The report also analyzes the most common circumstances in which a protection measure may be issued involving the separation of a child from his or her family. Such circumstances include a family’s lack of material resources; violence within the home; and relinquishment of custody or abandonment. The IACHR concludes that even though international human rights law has established that poverty and the lack of material means should not be a reason for children to be separated from their families, in practice, in the Americas, poverty continues to be the backdrop for many cases in which children enter a residential institution. This report also indicates concern over the fact that children from traditionally excluded sectors of society, such as Afro-descendant or indigenous children and children with disabilities, are overrepresented in residential institutions.

In terms of standards, the IACHR establishes in the report that the principles of exceptionality, necessity, and temporariness should prevail when it comes to applying special protection measures that involve the separation of children from their families. The interference in private family life entailed by the act of separating a child from his or her family must be in accordance with the law and be based on objective criteria; be well-founded on the basis of specialized evaluations carried out by a multidisciplinary team; and respond to the child’s best interests. The report also indicates that families can sometimes constitute an environment that is violent or that otherwise has a negative impact on the overall development of children and their rights. In these situations, the IACHR stresses, the intervention of the public authorities through a protection measure does not contradict the right to family life, but rather arises as a direct consequence of the absence of proper parental care and the State’s obligation to protect and guarantee the rights of children.

The IACHR establishes that special protection measures should, first of all, contemplate the possibility that children can be taken in within their extended or expanded family, as this is the measure that is most respectful of their rights; if this is not possible or not in a child’s best interests, the measures should consider the alternative of care in a foster family. In its conclusions, the IACHR establishes that institutional/residential care should be limited to those cases in which it is necessary and suitable, based on the best interests of the child, ensuring that the child will not remain in an institutional/ residential care facility for longer than is strictly necessary. Moreover, the Commission calls for substituting large residential institutions with smaller care centers that can provide personalized, quality care with a dynamic similar to that of a family and in a context close to the community to which the child belongs.

The IACHR underscores its concern over the current absence, in most of the States, of an adequate legal framework to regulate the creation and operation of residential foster care facilities. The lack of adequate government regulations for these types of institutions presents extremely serious consequences and problems in terms of the conditions in which many of them operate, without proper supervision and control. The reasons for concern expressed by the IACHR in its report have to do, among other things, with: the precariousness of the facilities from a standpoint of health and safety; overcrowding; lack of staff trained to work with children; negligence in care; violence and mistreatment; social isolation; and unnecessary psychiatric medication, or the use of forms of treatment that in themselves constitute a form of violence.

The IACHR indicates, in its recommendations, the need for the States to properly regulate the operation of residential care facilities and carry out proper oversight, investigating them and, where appropriate, punishing any violations of children’s rights that take place in these facilities. The IACHR urges the States to begin establishing an organized, planned process to deinstitutionalize children and adolescents, particularly very young children, who remain in residential institutions that do not meet the standards for protection of children, and to identify options that are more in keeping with children’s rights.

The Commission invites States and civil society members, as well as boys and girls to share this report and offers the support of the Rapporteurship on children’s rights in this effort.

This report was prepared in the framework of a cooperation accord between the IACHR and UNICEF, and in the context of a collaboration agreement between the IACHR and the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children. The IACHR recognizes the contribution of ALDEAS SOS for the translation of this report.*

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 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.

No. 14/14