Imprisoning children is not the solution to gang violence in El Salvador - Joint Statement with Committee on the Rights of the Child | UNICEF | UNFPA
Statement attributable to:
• Najat Maalla M’jid, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children
• Mikiko Otani, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child
• Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean
• Harold Robinson, UNFPA Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean
New York / Geneva / Panama City, 7 April 2022 – We express our solidarity with all the people affected by the increased number of violent incidents in El Salvador over the past few weeks, and particularly with those who have lost family members. Gang violence is unacceptable; it significantly harms communities and puts many children and adolescents at risk of falling into a lifetime of crime. However, imprisoning children is not the solution.
With the recent changes to the country’s juvenile justice law, children who are convicted of committing a crime as part of a criminal group and who are between 12 and 15 years of age could face up to 10 years in prison. Those aged 16 years or older could face up to 20 years in prison. The legislative changes allow these children to be detained until a final judgment is reached and limit the possibility of their sentences being modified or overturned. None of these measures align with the binding provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which El Salvador is a party.
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, detention should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Imprisoning children does not provide an environment that enhances a child’s development, nor does it promote the child’s reintegration as a positive member of society. Detention affects a child’s health and well-being, and evidence shows that incarceration increases a child’s chances of dropping out of school and committing a crime later in life, thereby perpetuating cycles of violence, exclusion and poverty. Non-custodial measures are far more cost-effective than detention and generate better outcomes for children themselves and society at large. Every child should be protected from detention.
Punitive measures alone will not solve gang violence. Children can be victims both of gang violence and as gang members. They can be recruited, and they can be used. In recent years, El Salvador has made significant progress to protect children and guarantee their rights with child-centred social policies and investment in education and early childhood development programmes proven to prevent violence. These can go further – working with communities to promote safe and positive interactions that prevent child recruitment in gangs. It is about empowering children to create a culture of peace.
At this decisive moment, we strongly urge the Government of El Salvador to review the changes to the juvenile justice law. Children’s rights apply at all times, even in states of emergency.
The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Committee on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Children’s Fund, and United Nations Population Fund are ready to provide technical support to the Government of El Salvador to address gang violence and to revise the juvenile justice law in line with international standards.
For more information, please contact:
Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children
Miguel Caldeira, Communication Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, +1-917-367-6132, email@example.com
Committee on the Rights of the Child
Vivian Kwok, Media Officer for Treaty Bodies, the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights, +41 (0) 229179362, firstname.lastname@example.org or UN Human Rights Office Media Section at +41 (0) 22 928 9855, email@example.com
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Laurent Duvillier, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office, +507-6169-9886, firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn McCaffrey, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office, +507-6587-2243, email@example.com
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Alvaro Serrano, UNFPA Regional Communication Adviser, UNFPA Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office, +507-6561-8183, firstname.lastname@example.org