Protection available for children victims of abuse, particularly incest [SLV31733.E]

The information that follows adds to that provided by Country Reports 1998 (see subsections on Women and Children), and SLV25693.E of 13 February 1997, SLV18257.E of 23 September 1994 and SLV14149 of 14 June 1993. Although their main focus is on women, these Responses deal with the subjects of sexual and intrafamily violence, including protection, services and response from the authorities in relation to it.

The Salvadorean magazine Proceso of the Central American University (UCA) reported on 2 September 1998a the following:

Articles 167, 168, 169 and 173 of the Penal Code protect minors under 18 years of age from diverse sexual acts, from the corruption of minors, from illicit persuasion, promotion and favoring of prostitution. This is an advantage, taking into account that there are countries in which such legislation for the protection of minors does not exist. Nevertheless, the life of a child is invaluable and a prison term of 2-8 years (which is what this legislation stipulates for those who sexually assault minors) cannot undo the damage which sexual abuse presupposes.

On 2 December 1998a, under the heading "The Current State of Violence in the Family" Proceso reported:

As the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman's Office for Human Rights (PDDH, for its initials in Spanish) took a stand against violence in the family and in favor of eradicating it, the national press explained that, between 1997 and 1998 some 26 women died as a result of such violence. The Institute of Legal Medicine revealed that, between January and June of 1998 some 800 cases of violence in the family were reported; the Attorney General's Office received 10-12 denunciations on a daily basis while the Institute for the Development of Women (ISDEMU, for its initials in Spanish) received some 1,060 cases in only three months. Nevertheless, this is not the most alarming fact. The same day news was published which explained that in some rural areas (small towns and isolated rural communities far from departmental capitals) that attention for these kinds of violence is non-existent. In these places there are no offices where complaints can be registered and the National Civilian Police, the Family Courts of the PDDH show no intention to overcome this problem.
To prevent and sanction violence against women and children lies in the hands of some governmental and non-governmental institutions. There is, for example, the Program of Schools for Parents and Centers for Psychological Assistance. As a spokesperson for the Supreme Court explained, "at the present time our efforts are oriented towards promoting education and training of judges and other functionaries of the justice system...in the problem of violence in the family to take up, in a more effective way, the responsibility for administering a just and more even-handed justice".
So then, the topic of violence in the home is, up to a certain point, a new one for legislation and punishment. The Salvadoran Penal Code has taken it up only since the month of April of 1998.

The section "News Briefs" of the same Proceso issue cites a report from the daily La Prensa Gráfica stating the following:

In the context of the "International Day for Non-Violence Against Women", celebrated on November 25, the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women (ISDEMU, for its initials in Spanish) declared that, between 1995 and 1997 the effects of violence in the family were tripled. In accordance with this statement, beatings and psychological harm increased, although the figures for deaths as a result of aggressions diminished. The Director of the Program for the Healing of Family Relations (PSRF, for its initials in Spanish), Mr. Enrique Valdez, stated that from the date in March of 1995 when the program was inaugurated until August of this year, 36,884 victims of family violence in critical condition had been attended; three of every four of these victims are women. Women usually present a complaint for physical and psychological violence while for minors the aggressions are of the sexual kind. There are also cases of men who are victims of physical violence. It is a known fact that the greatest number of aggressors live in San Salvador and Soyapango, The PSRF, coordinated by the ISDEMU, works in a multi-disciplinary and institutional system which includes 12 governmental organisms. "Many believe that these problems should be resolved using legal means, but experience has demonstrated that it is through social means [that these problems should be addressed]", stated Mr. Valdez (2 Dec. 1998b).

The Human Rights Institute of the Central American University in San Salvador conducted in 1998 an extensive study of the "judicial means of protection for children and youth in El Salvador," with the assistance of Swedish and Danish organizations (Proceso 2 Sept. 1998b; ibid. 17 Sept. 1998). Although the summary of findings published in Proceso is extensive and in Spanish, some of the main findings are as follows.

Two of the greatest limitations facing the study on the effectiveness of judicial mechanisms for protecting youth and children are that Salvdorean society makes limited use of the existing mechanisms for the defense of children's' rights, and that the judicial system does not have an information system that allows a precise tracking or monitoring of the cases it handles.

One of the main limitations to effective action regarding child abuse is the lack of a "culture of reporting cases" (no hay una práctica social de denuncia de casos), adding that this problem is particularly acute in cases of incest, where the aggressor and the victim belong to the same family. Reporting is also limited due to a fear of reprisals and the impunity that traditionally has been enjoyed by certain sectors of society (ciertos sectores sociales).

The study found many strengths and positive developments in the current system, as regards child abuse. The system includes the family tribunals, the minors tribunals, the "measures enforcement and peace judges" (jueces de ejecución de medidas y de paz), the National Civilian Police (PNC), the Public Attorney's Office (Fiscalía General de la República), the National Ombudsman's Office (Procuradoría General de la República), the Salvadorean Institute for the Protection of Minors (Instituto Salvadoreño de Protección al Menor), the National Family Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional de la Familia), The Ombudsman for the Defense of Human Rights (Procuradoría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, PDDH), the ministries of Health, Education, Labour and Justice, and non-government institutions that work with children in coordination with the national Network for Childhood and Adolescence (Red para la Infancia y la Adolescencia).

The legislation in place is viewed by the study as being in accordance with international instruments. Additional strengths of the legislation are its recognition of both rights and duties of children; a variety of means to prevent and resolve conflicts; more practical and humane proceedings; innovative judicial procedures such as the possibility of parties agreeing to remove a case from the judicial process to solve it, allowing participation of the victim in the legal process, allowance for damages and redress to the victim, and oral proceedings in courts. The new legislation also allows for attribution of responsibility to minors for their transgressions, which has resulted in fewer repeat offenses; there are no judicial fees for a process; the burden of proof is less strict and based on a critical evaluation of evidence at hand; there is flexibility in accordance with the age of those involved, both for the process and for the penalties or remedial measures.

Positive developments reported by the study are that: institutions and society at large seem increasingly willing to report cases; both state and non-government institutions are increasingly supporting the work of the courts; coordination of work between such institutions and the courts is taking place in the departmental capitals and some municipalities, although their efforts require further organization; courts work with multi-disciplinary teams to develop community programs aimed, among other things, at developing healthy relations between children and adults within and outside the family.

The judiciary has created "Psycho-social Assistance Centres" (Centro de Atención Psicosocial) for assisting families; the PDDH has in place 13 special branches nationwide and, by September 1998, 90 programs nationwide called the Local Office of the Ombudsman for Adolescent and Children's Rights (Defensorías Locales de los Derechos Humanos de la Niñez y la Adolescencia) and the Integral Ombudsmen's Offices (Defensorías Integrales). There is a growing movement to promote sensitivity, although the campaigns have lacked detail or clarity for developing awareness of how to use the existing legal means.

The study also found a number of limiting factors and shortcomings of the system. Chief among them are the poverty levels, which the study considers decisive in the incidence of related problems. There is also a persistence of violent attitudes and behaviour inherited from the recent armed conflict, and limited fora for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, which hamper the necessary individual and social changes. The study also found deficiencies: in the public knowledge and perception of children's problems; in awareness programs on legislation, policies and services; in procedures for handling cases and in special programs; in coordination and communication efforts; in the quality or capacity of material and human resources; in the training of personnel; in the education system and societal values; and in information systems. The study points many areas and institutions in which more resources, training and changes are needed to improve the system available to assist abused children and youth in El Salvador.

Please note that the above-cited English articles from Proceso were obtained by a CIDAI subscription (see references below); Proceso in English can also be found on the UCA Internet Website, at http://www.uca.edu.sv/publica/proceso/ prociind.html. However, the English editions of Proceso Nos. 820 and 822 do not include an English translation of the above-cited two-part report in Spanish "Pensando en la niñez y la juventud."

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References


Proceso [San Salvador]. 2 December 1998a. No. 833. "The Current State of Violence in the Family." Central American University (UCA) Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI). (CIDAI)

_____. 2 December 1998b. No. 833. "News Briefs: Violence." (CIDAI)

_____. 17 September 1998. No. 822. "Pensando en la niñez y la juventud (II)." [Internet] http:// www.uca.edu.sv/publica/proceso/proc822.html#derechos [Accessed 30 April 1999]

_____. 2 September 1998a. No. 820. "Child Prostitution as an Industry." (CIDAI)

_____. 2 September 1998b. No. 820. "Pensando en la niñez y la juventud (I)." [Internet] http:// www.uca.edu.sv/publica/proceso/proc820.html#derechos [Accessed 30 April 1999]