With the aim to improve child protection practices in Paraguay, Strengthening Families for Abandoned Children have partnered with Paraguay Protects Families and the Government of Paraguay with support from A4ID’s ROLE UK Programme.
Legal barriers to child protection in Paraguay
Paraguay has a large proportion of young people, with around 35% of the population being under 14 years of age. Due to many factors, thousands of these Paraguayan children and adolescents face protection issues. These factors include the widely accepted use of corporal punishment, high levels of poverty resulting in many children on the street and a lack of a quality judicial system that does not put the best interest of the child at the centre. Resulting protection issues include neglect, sexual exploitation, trafficking and child labour. Many children are at high risk of abuse within their family and are at risk of being removed from their homes. In addition, over 90% of children without parental care are in institutions, far from their communities of origin, and only an average of 5% live in accredited foster families. There are also children who are ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ in the court system.
The Government of Paraguay has taken several steps that display its commitment to improving child protection laws. Notably, the Paraguayan Government has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) and adopted national legislation, such as the Children’s Code (2001), to integrate the principles of the Convention into national law. Paraguay has also become a ‘Pathfinder’ country, which means that it is committed to accelerated action towards target 16.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ‘end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children’.
Despite national commitments, child protection issues remain prevalent and often children’s needs are inadequately met. This is reflective of the lack of effective coordination between the key stakeholders responsible for safeguarding vulnerable children, the weak implementation of laws, a dearth of specialised training and lack of funding for child protection services, among other challenges.
Improving child protection practices in Paraguay through partnerships
The partnership between Strengthening Families for Abandoned Children (SFAC), Paraguay Protects Families (PPF) and the Government of Paraguay works to strengthen legal systems and processes which safeguard the rights of vulnerable children. SFAC is a UK-based charity committed to the promotion of children’s right to family life and the right to a fair trial. PPF is a civil society movement promoting family-based care for Paraguayan children and works alongside the Paraguayan Government in learning and applying best practices and models of child protection. Through its partnership with PPF and the Government of Paraguay, SFAC have provided training to various Paraguayan stakeholders since 2013.
A4ID’s ROLE UK Programme began providing financial and strategic support to the SFAC-PPF partnership with the Government of Paraguay in October 2018. As part of a three-year project to provide support to the deployment of legal and judicial experts in children’s rights to Paraguay, the Programme has supported the partnership with two assignments.
The initial assignment involved two senior family and childcare lawyers from the UK providing training to 400 Paraguayan judicial and senior government counterparts. The topics included increasing awareness about the role of the judiciary in the care and protection of children, and the importance of the judiciary’s considerations of the impact of its decisions on children. This assignment opened the space for the Paraguayan judiciary to be involved in the movement for improved care and protection of children. It was the first time that judges, prosecutors and public defenders were brought together to focus on this issue.
Most of the participants said that the trainings were applicable to the Paraguayan context and that they could apply the lessons learnt to their practice. In addition, feedback from PPF suggested that the public defenders, public prosecutors, judges and members of the Ministry of Children who had received the trainings were interested in continuing to cooperate after the assignment.
The November 2018 training led to a Declaration of Commitment to ‘Best Practices in the Judicial Process of Protection and Care for the Child’, signed by the Supreme Court of Justice, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the Ministry of Defense Public and the Ministry of Children and Adolescents in April 2019. Following this, the Paraguay Ministry of Children decided to carry out a national review of the child protection and care system from August to December 2019.
A4ID’s ROLE UK Programme and SFAC provided technical and financial support for the national review and the analytical phase was completed in December 2019. The results of the review were presented at a high-level Summit in the same month by the Ministry of Children and Adolescents, the Ministry of Public Defense, the Supreme Court of Justice, the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the High Authorities of the System to the Government of Paraguay. At this Summit, the partnership’s work progressed significantly, leading to an inter-agency framework for the management of child protection cases being ratified. This was a significant milestone, suggesting future interagency cooperation regarding court proceedings for child protection cases.
During the Summit, the SFAC-funded specialist and children’s lawyer, Ruth Sharon, led the creation of a roadmap that highlighted short- and long-term improvements to restructure the care system throughout the country. The roadmap included the development of a unified guidance manual of functions and procedures and the development of control and monitoring mechanisms for children’s rights with standardised criteria. This roadmap represents a strong platform from which the sustainability of the reforms supported by A4ID’s ROLE UK Programme can be optimised.
Whilst knowledge of context is paramount, it can often be difficult to identify the changes needed from an ‘insider’ perspective Judicial, government and legal participants at the Summit stressed the usefulness of the critical ‘outsider’ perspective provided by Ruth Sharon. In highlighting what could be done to improve child protection services, all the relevant stakeholders could move towards the creation of a roadmap with the government with efficient solutions and achievable improvements for the care system. This would primarily ensure that the child is the central focus of child protection policies and practice.
By continuing to provide key strategic and financial support, the partnership strives in the long-term to empower Paraguayan courts to make judgments which promote and protect the 35% of the population composed of children. It also seeks to ensure that children’s rights are paramount in every decision made about their safety and welfare, particularly in relation to their right to live as a family. This thereby contributes towards SDG 16.2 and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s equality and social justice rule of law pathway.