SEXUAL RIGHTS: Protection and Freedom

The discussion on the sexual rights of children is marked by an absence of consensus and an abundance of controversy. Issues such as the inclusion of sexuality education in schools, the distribution of contraception, the medical privacy of boys and girls, and the minimum age at which sexual relations should no longer be considered an act of physical aggression are a continuing source of disagreement in a number of countries.

These divergences extend into the debate on confronting sexual violence. There is a persistent tendency to disregard the right to the free exercise of sexuality by girls and boys, accompanied by the ongoing influence moral, cultural, and legal factors. "Children end up being treated as if they were asexual. In the desire to protect them against sexual aggression, society at times ignores that, in addition to rights holders, children also have desires," argues Mary Castro, a sociologist and researcher at the Brazilian National Science and Technology Development Council (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico - CNPq) and a contributor to "Youth and Sexuality" ("Juventudes e Sexualidade"), a study prepared by the UNESCO Office Brazil.

Ignoring the reality of sexuality in the lives of children only serves as an additional obstacle to the continuing debate on the minimum permissible age for sexual relations. Castro questions whether a fixed age - such as the 14-year limit established in Brazil - is in fact the most effective approach to addressing the question. In her view, the increasing prevalence of affective bonds between 13-year-old boys and girls, for example, which in some cases may lead to consensual sexual relations, must be taken into consideration.

However, merely debating changes to the law is not the only avenue for addressing the question of sexual consent. In addition, judicial proceedings regarding sexual relations between young persons must take into account the specific circumstances of individual cases. "In these cases, it is important to know whether there was an affective bond and whether violence was employed," maintains judge Brigitte Remor, a board member of the Brazilian Association of Juvenile Judges, Prosecutors, and Public Defenders (Associação Brasileira de Magistrados, Promotores de Justiça e Defensores Públicos da Infância e da Juventude - ABMP).

Paradigm Shift

According to Remor, efforts to promote rights can be significantly enhanced if those charged with formulating and enforcing the law took the time to consider the views of young persons on the issue. Similarly, Mary Castro argues that initiating a dialogue with young persons would dovetail with the natural tendency of girls and boys to affirm their individuality. "Those who work directly with young persons can discern their search for autonomy, principally in the area of sexuality, one of the critical factors underlying the formation of individual identity," she concludes.

Castro underscores, however, that promoting greater participation and independence must be accompanied by minimum privacy guarantees in regard to the free exercise of sexuality. "In Mediterranean societies above all the lines between the importance of the family in terms of emotional bonds and its omnipotence in all other facets of life are blurred. And sexuality is precisely a key area in which young persons seek separation from the family." In Castro's view, securing the right to medical privacy is essential to protect the intimacy of young persons.

In this light, protecting children requires moving away from the traditional paradigm of good customs toward a greater emphasis on valuing free choice and the development of healthy sexuality. Yet, this perspective in no way rejects the importance of ensuring special safeguards for children. "Protections are particularly important for young children, and are only gradually replace over time with empowerment," notes Renate Winter, former president of the International Association of Youth and Family Judges and Magistrates and former judge of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Sexuality Education

One way States can contribute to promoting responsible and healthy sexuality is through incorporation of the topic in school curricula. "Extending sexual rights to children is useless if they have no understanding of the meaning or consequences of those rights," affirms Winter.

As such, it is first necessary to refute a number of simplistic ideas regarding the discussion of sexuality in schools, as Mary Castro explains: "Sexuality education should prepare [children] for sexual relations which do not produce negative consequences in the broader context. It is important to understand that genitalia are the last element of sexuality. It is not simply about educating on the use of contraception and birth control, but also about the expression of desires, affection, symbols, and feelings of pleasure."

In promoting, in this way, a more conscientious and mature relationship with individual sexuality, sexuality education contributes to reducing the vulnerability of boys and girls to sexual violence. "For example, it is important that children know how to say 'no' to the sexual advances of adults and older children," maintains Winter.

According to the former judge, policies aimed at promoting sexual rights must also take into account families that are unwilling to allow their children to participate in discussions on sexuality because of deep-seated moral convictions. In these cases, efforts should be undertaken to work with the parents by offering them the opportunity to take part in discussions on the issue.

Brazil's Guidance Councils are the agencies with primary responsibility for processing and referring reports on the violation of children's rights. For Sidneia Santos, coordinator of the Brazilian Professional Forum of Guidance Councils (Fórum Colegiado Nacional de Conselheiros Tutelares), investments in training are essential to foster greater engagement by the Councils in the discussions on sexual rights. "The initial stage of sexual life is a controversial issue, yet society must be open to the discussion. As such, it is one of the topics scheduled to be addressed during the Fifth Brazilian Congress of Guidance Councils (5º Congresso Nacional dos Conselheiros Tutelares) in November," notes Santos.

Further Reading

See UNESCO's Handbooks of International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education available in English on the organization's Web site.

See Juventudes e Sexualidade (Youth a Sexuality) a Portuguese-language study published by the UNESCO Office Brazil.

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Innocenti Research Center Releases Publication on the Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Boys in South Asia

A publication on the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of boys in South Asia is currently available on UNICEF's, Innocenti Research Center Web site. Notwithstanding the scarcity of information and studies on the issue, the document exposes the urgency of the problem in the region, while offering an overview of the related research studies, legislation, public policies, and programs developed to address the problem. Based in Florence, Italy, since 1988, the Innocenti Research Center was established by UNICEF for the purpose of enhancing the organization's research work and generating knowledge and information capable of providing guidance to the formulation of public policies for children.

Free download of the publication in English

Learn more about the Innocenti Research Center

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Brazil Marks the 20th Anniversary of the Brazilian Child and Adolescent Bill of Rights

On July 13 and 14, the "20 Years of the ECA and Public Policies: Achievements and Challenges" Seminar will be held as part of the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Brazilian Child and Adolescent Bill of Rights (Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente - ECA). Guided by the principle of ensuring full protection to children, the ECA was enacted to regulate article 227 of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, through which absolute priority is given to effectuating the rights of children in the execution of public measures.

The program schedule includes discussions on the background and evolution of children's policies in Brazil, as well as the current efforts of government and civil society to combat the multiple forms of violence visited upon children. Representatives of various government and non-governmental entities, in addition to candidates in Brazil's upcoming presidential elections, will take part in the event.

To see the program schedule, go to Child Rights Portal.

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Engaging the Brazilian Business Community in the Effort to Confront Sexual Violence

In July of this year, the Brazilian National Program to Confront Sexual Violence against Children (Programa Nacional de Enfrentamento à Violência Sexual Contra Crianças e Adolescentes - PNEVSCA), will launch, in partnership with the Brazilian Association Terra dos Homens, a publicity campaign directed at entrepreneurs and executives throughout the country. The idea is to encourage the private sector to take active part in measures to prevent and combat the problem through broadcast of a series of public service messages on a variety of mediums, including television, radio, the print media, and the Internet.

For more information see: Brazilian Secretariat of Human Rights and Brazilian Association Terra dos Homens.

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Report Internet Child Pornography

The National Complaint Hotsite (Dial 100) was launched to receive reports of Internet child pornography. The Web site builds upon the Dial 100 service, a hotline coordinated by the Brazilian Secretariat of Human Rights (Secretaria de Direitos Humanos - SDH) since 2003 and to which more than 100,000 complaints of sexual violence against children have been submitted. The service is operated jointly by the SDH, the Brazilian Federal Police Department, and the SaferNet Organization, in partnership with the Child and Adolescent Reference, Studies, and Action Center, the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, and PETROBRÁS.

For more on how to submit a complaint report, go to:

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MERCOSUR Outlines Strategy to Confront Trafficking in Children

Learn more about the PAIR MERCOSUR (Regional Strategy to Confront Trafficking in Children) initiative. Currently operated in 15 border municipalities of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, the objective of the strategy is to establish a network throughout the region's border areas to combat trafficking in girls and boys for purposes of sexual exploitation.

Conceived to serve as an extension of the PAIR Brazil (Integration Action and Reference Program to Confront Sexual Violence against Children within Brazil) program, the PAIR MERCOSUR initiative is the product of joint cooperation efforts between the four member States. In Brazil, the program is executed by the Brazilian Secretariat of Human Rights in partnership with the Research Support Foundation of the University of Mato Grosso do Sul.

For more, go to PAIR Brazil and PAIR MERCOSUR.

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Discussion on Children's Rights and the Federative Pact

On July 1 and 2 of this year, the "Children's Human Rights Policies and the Federative Pact" ("A Política de Direitos Humanos da Criança e do Adolescente e o Pacto Federativo") conference was held in Brazil. The event marked the launch of the Brazilian National Social Responsibility Campaign against the Sexual Exploitation of Children (Campanha Nacional de Responsabilidade Social contra a Exploração Sexual de Crianças e Adolescentes), while gathering, additionally, administrators and technical personnel of Brazil's child rights protection network for a wide-ranging set of discussions.

Organized through a partnership between the Brazilian National Program to Confront Sexual Violence against Children and the Program for the Protection of Children Threatened with Death (Programa de Proteção a Crianças e Adolescentes Ameaçados de Morte), both components of the SDH, the event featured the official roll-out of the 2010 version of the Brazilian Child Rights National Observatory Portal (Portal do Observatório Nacional dos Direitos da Criança e do Adolescente) as well as launch of the Read, See, Listen, and Act Campaign (Campanha para Ler, Ver, Ouvir e Agir), an initiative formulated by the Brazilian National Association of Child Protection Centers (Associação Nacional de Centros de Defesa da Criança e do Adolescente) to raise public awareness on child murder cases in Brazil.

For more on the child rights protection network in Brazil, go to: Brazilian Secretariat of Human Rights.


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