María de los Dolores Aguilar Marmolejo Director of Inter-American Children's Institute. Mexico

María de los Dolores Aguilar Marmolejo Director of Inter-American Children's Institute. Mexico

Latin America
María de los Dolores Aguilar Marmolejo, Directora del Instituto Interamericano del Niño, la Niña y Adolescentes (IIN). México

María de los Dolores Aguilar Marmolejo (Mexico) studied Philosophy and a Master´s degree in Organizational Development.

She served in the federal government of Mexico as General Director of Child Protection in the National System for Integral Family Development, with the responsibility of implementing programs such as Child Care Centers, Street Children, Child Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Frontier Children, Teen Pregnancy, promotion and dissemination of the Rights of Children, Child labor.

In 2007 she was appointed by the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, with the support of the Directing Council, for the period 2007-2011 as General Director of the Inter-American Children's Institute (IIN).

She was reelected as General Director of the Inter-American Children Institute (IIN) for the period 2011-2015. Presently, the main lines of action adopted by the Board through the Action Plan are: Adolescent Criminal Responsibility Systems, Early Childhood and Natural Disasters, which will be implemented in strategic areas of the region.

Last June, the Inter-American Children’s Institute (IIN) celebrated its 86th anniversary. Ever since its creation, the organisation has had an influence in numerous areas relating to the improvement of children’s rights in the Americas. These have included matters of law and legislation, many areas of education, the development of health care and social welfare and matters of civil registration and statistics. With this in mind, what advances and achievements would you highlight in each of the specific areas related to children’s rights and what would you say are the main challenges?

The IIN is a long-standing organisation which was created with the aim of bringing together an international approach to the promotion and protection of children and the work of governments acting at a more localized level. This means that their efforts to strengthen and support institutions enable them to promote effective and long-lasting actions which will bring real benefits for young people.

Looking back over the IIN’s history, I would highlight its support in the study of the realities of childhood through its Pan-American Conferences, as well as the more localised agenda created in these discussions which bring together the highest authorities in child protection across the Americas and the Caribbean. It is also essential that we recognise the influence which the IIN has had on the creation of legislation in this continent. Nowadays, we need to mention the efforts of those who have created and implemented public policies regarding children’s rights in countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Jamaica, involving the country’s presidents, authorities and those working at a local scale. These initiatives can be taken to provide a valuable model which can then be replicated by other countries, creating a multiplying effect through which governments can share their successes.

These days, we recognise the importance of two fundamental elements which run throughout the institute’s actions: the integration of a family perspective and the participation of children and young people.

In the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CDN), articles 5, 9, 18 and 27 are particularly relevant here, as they underline the need to incorporate this first element, that is to say, to understand the child within the family environment in order to adopt the most effective and appropriate methods to promote and protect their rights. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has taken the opportunity to address these articles in its treatment of violence in the General Comment No.13, which, working alongside the IIN, sets a standard for the multitude of elements which are encompassed by our understanding of childhood. According to this General Comment, any initiative which favours the development of family relationships will bring great benefits for today’s children, unlocking a vast potential which exists in the Americas, as there is a strong and deep rooted family culture in most of the IIN’s member states.

Regarding the participation of children and young people, one of the principles of the CDN, expressed in Articles 12 and 15, is the essential role played by these young people as protagonists in the execution of their rights. We can also use participation to address situations of vulnerability, with an open approach to citizen’s education, linked in particular to the work of the Organization of American States to promote democratic governance.

In the work of the member states, participation must be included in all aspects of public policy. The IIN is constantly encouraging governments to incorporate participation in their policies, through methods such as support with specialised training, the development of technical documents, and also the celebration of the Pan-American Forum on Children which takes place alongside the Pan-American Child Congress, a key internal organ of the IIN which brings together the main children’s authorities of its member states.  

To sum up, these two elements constitute both a challenge and a success in the Americas and the Caribbean. Therefore, we need to help strengthen the institutions involved and embrace those practices which allow us to increase their knowledge and development.

The approval of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 is the conceptual model of the IIN. What repercussions would you say this has had on the lives of children and young people in the Americas? What would you say have been the greatest achievements since the adoption of this convention in the Americas? With that in mind, what do you consider to be the main barriers which affect the implementation of the convention in the IIN’s member states?

There is no doubt that the convention, which will soon celebrate its 25th anniversary, is a milestone in contemporary history. It is the fruit of 10 years of hard work at the heart of the United Nations, and its important predecessors on the Inter-American and international scene, who have encouraged the recognition of a series of fundamental rights and principles relating to the ontological consideration of children and adolescents as people, and subjects of the law, emphasizing their individuality and life cycle.

During this time, the convention has brought significant changes to institutional practice and attitudes towards childhood. However, it still needs to be more widely promoted and better interpreted across numerous sectors. In this way it will not only be mentioned in the plans of various policies, programmes and projects, but it will also form an intrinsic part of the operation and practice of such plans.  The revisions which are periodically made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the main body behind this treaty, take this phenomenon into account.

Children’s rights are the essential focus behind every approach involving children which the IIN supports. And it is the application of this focus which provides one of the biggest challenges, due to the fact that certain governments try to prevent the application of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The challenge for governments is the inclusion of this focus in the creation of policies, programmes and projects in which they must outline a specific strategy which considers the work of different sectors, the lack of investment in prevention, the short-sightedness of certain measures, an engagement in child participation, and the maximizing of resources as outlined in Article 4.  It is important for the Americas and the Caribbean to invest in a programme based on children’s rights as a response to the problems in our society.

A key element of the Girls Empowerment seminar developed in April was the signing of the “Rio Charter: girls today, leaders tomorrow”, whose objective is to help protect and guarantee girls’ rights and to construct a more fair and equal society. What measures would need to be taken to achieve this objective? How should governments, private institutions, the third sector and the public contribute to the empowerment of these girls?

The Girls Empowerment seminar, developed in April 2013 in Brazil, provides an important reference, as it puts on record the need to talk about the specific participation of girls, a fundamental aspect of the promotion of human rights and representative governance in the Americas.  This event is framed by the context of a marked absence of involvement initiatives directed exclusively at girls and young women. However, in research carried out by the IIN in 15 different countries in the Americas, a higher percentage of girls involved in inclusion programmes has been observed. There can be no empowerment until we change the cultural standards, which relegate women into second place, and create an attitude of service between men and women which would facilitate this change in attitudes. This idea runs through many of the themes touched on by the young women at the seminar, from the shaping and recognition of the typical ideas of the feminine image, to the involvement of young women in the policies, plans and programmes developed by government institutions. The private sector and non-governmental organizations have been quicker to take these ideas into account, leaving governments with some catching up to do. There has therefore been much consideration of the topic, as the Charter suggests, as well as a permanent mobilisation of resources and institutional capacities which allows governments to achieve their objectives with a focus on rights. Without a complete reworking of the macro-policies of these institutions and their current management strategies it will be difficult to respond to the Charter, which is a wakeup call for the entire continent.

Justice for young people in conflict with the law is one of the areas of the IIN’s Action Plan 2011-2015. These days, what do you consider to be the main failing of the justice system in the Americas for these young people in conflict with the law? Which objectives are being prioritised by the IIN?

It is worth emphasizing the work carried out by governments to adjust their regulations to international propositions on human rights in general, and especially the contents of the international instruments related to this subject, always leaving room for reform in this fundamental area at the heart of the system. Equally, we cannot forget the continued work carried out by governments to create and/or strengthen their specialized systems so as to comply with these guidelines, developing and encouraging new proposals which allow governments to realize the special characteristics and principles which they must abide by, without losing the character of their legal system. 

In their resolution CD/RES 03 (87-R/12), the IIN’s Executive Committee propose the implementation of alternative measures to achieve the promotion, integration and full exercise of the rights of young offenders when strengthening these specialized legal systems. Within this framework the institution has drawn up as an objective the implementation of non-custodial sanctions, without the risk of this effecting its technical support in other areas such as reform, working with state bodies responsible for the execution of such sanctions in order to promote and develop intervention models within their criminal sanctions for young people which will allow the adequate execution of non-custodial sanctions, within the framework of national legislation.

Within this framework the institute has, between 2012 and 2013, developed various tools, which have been made available to governments to support their work in this area. 

A document detailing the position of the IIN regarding systems of penal responsibility for teenagers in the Americas, the last few pages of which outline their attitude towards such systems.

Technical and operational guidelines for the implementation and execution of sanctions in which guidance is provided for the use of non-custodial sanctions or socio-educational measures, incorporating young people’s right to involvement and taking the general focus into account. The document identifies the sanctions and socio-educational measures appearing in legislation across the Americas, and establishes guidelines for their implementation, including amongst others; minimal penal intervention, specialization, participation and public responsibility. Equally, the document makes reference to the conditions necessary for the effective implementation of these measures and sanctions within the responsible authorities, the generation of specialized programmes and the coordination of the courts. Finally, the document gives general guidance for the implementation of alternative measures and non-custodial sanctions.

Throughout 2013, technical guidance was implemented for the execution of non-custodial sanctions, working in Colombia with the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) and in Guatemala with the Secretariat for Social Welfare of the Presidency of the Republic of Guatemala, working with teenage sexual offenders, and in Panama working to promote a re-education programme, the implementation of which is the responsibility of the National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents and Family (SENNIAF). This work was accompanied by a part distance-training programme in the three countries, in which 90 civil servants took part. This online training is set to continue throughout 2014.

Guidance on appropriate post-sanction methods, where required, once the given sentence has been served and provided the young person has successfully completed their educational rehabilitation. This post-sanction process must provide continued support for the young offender, helping them to achieve their potential and to be effectively reintegrated into the community after the completion of their sentence. The document outlines experiences in the Americas and establishes the governing principles which should guide this post-sanction process.  In its objectives it makes reference to the challenges faced, linked to the institutional and technical measures which need to be involved in this post-sanction process in order for it to be successful.

A comparative review of the adolescent criminal responsibility legislation in the Americas, a document which was constructed as a consultation tool which outlines the way in which a range of different elements relating to adolescent criminal law have been incorporated in the legislation of countries within the Americas, each of which is based on a legal system which covers the entire continent. 

Courses about the general approach to systems of penal responsibility, as part of the courses offered by the IIN to civil servants. In 2013 a course was developed, the objective of which is to understand the principle characteristics of the legal rights of young people and the characteristics which must be present in a legal system in order for it to be considered specialized. In this way, the course content covers the doctrine for the comprehensive protection of children and the Corpus Juris of children’s human rights, in order to analyse how they have been implemented by specific countries, and then to make a bridge between the general principles and the particulars of each specialized legal system for young people, primarily concerning education, the objectives of these systems and the measures and sanctions used on young people, in order to introduce how the practice has developed, principally through the introduction of socio-educational and restorative measures

The course is aimed at civil servants, and has members in countries such as Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The public policies of comprehensive care and protection of young children are another important line of work of the IIN’s Action Plan 2011-2015. They aim to elaborate methods which allow the implementation and strengthening of an integrated management model and the monitoring of rights. With this in mind, what achievements of theirs would you highlight? What are the main challenges they face in the future?

Most of the countries involved in the IIN, despite their heterogeneous nature, have high birth rates, or a high percentage of young children. This, linked with the scientific research which has been conducted into the impact that this stage of development has on the child’s future, have meant that over the past few years countries have made a concerted effort to focus on early childhood. 

Some of the challenges faced by these countries have included the following:

The difficulty in implementing effective intersectoral agreements which provide an integrated early childhood policy and which goes above and beyond the classic dichotomy between education, protection, food security and health, in order to provide all-round support for children across all areas. 

That these policies not only talk about children but also encourage changes in their environment in a way which offers the stimulation, support and security they need to best develop. In this way it becomes essential to outline actions on early childhood with programmes which encourage parenting skills, including aspects such as the non-violent resolution of arguments. The design and evaluation of these policies needs to overcome a difficulty which has been repeatedly observed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child: the absence of systems to monitor and evaluate these rights.

Between 2012 and 2013 the IIN has been working with its member states to develop a series of guidelines, based on analysis of the experiences of the various countries. They have made certain that these guidelines and recommendations are adapted to the realities of each country and that they come from real practice.

It was in this way that they came up with 3 key documents:

Guidelines for the implementation and management of public policy for the comprehensive protection of young children A system to monitor children’s rights: the state of the situation in each member state, indications and proposals for their implementation Guidelines for the promotion of childcare and upbringing skills within families These documents were validated by the Inter-American human rights system and distributed in order to provide a methodological and conceptual background to the work carried out by the IIN.

During 2012 an online course was created about the planning of comprehensive early childhood policy. The course was taken by the government experts, able to make political decisions, who showed the greatest interest in the topic.

As a result of this, the course members have devised projects specific to their particular areas with a view to improve the quality and comprehensive nature of their work.

The challenge for 2014 is to continue working on the implementation of these guidelines, continuing to make progress across a growing number of countries.