Torture And Abuse To Children Essay, Research Paper
As human beings, children are entitled to all the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the various treaties that have developed from it. But children also need special protection and care. They must be able to depend on the adult world to take care of them, to defend their rights and to help them to develop and realize their potential. Yet, violence against children is endemic: each day, terrible abuses and acts of violence against children are committed worldwide. They suffer as many of the human rights abuses as the adults, but may also be targeted simply because they are dependent and vulnerable.
The Fifth Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Nevertheless, children are being tortured and mistreated by state officials; they are detained, lawfully or arbitrarily, often in appalling conditions; in some countries they are subjected to the death penalty. Countless thousands are killed or maimed in armed conflicts; many more have fled their homes to become refugees. Children forced by poverty or abuse to live on the streets are sometimes detained, attacked and even killed in the name of social cleansing. Many millions of children work at exploitative or hazardous jobs, or are the victims of child trafficking and forced prostitution. Because children are “easy targets”, they are sometimes threatened, beaten or raped in order to punish family members who are not so accessible.
Amnesty International has been one of the organizations that has denounced this terrible situation in a new report published prior to the Human Rights Day. The report of Amnesty International shows that children who are victims of torture see themselves trapped in military and political conflict situations; that children who are suspicious of having committed criminal acts are exposed to undergo torture at the hands of State agents; that frequently children are detained in conditions that involve danger for their health and physical integrity; and that many children are exposed to receive blows or to undergo sexual abuses at the hands of the same adult that in theory must protect them. There is also indicated that the torture and the bad treatments to the children are not only a social or cultural issue, but a violation of human rights which the State has an obligation to come up with effective measures to prevent.
Children and their rights
According to Amnesty International, a “child”, in most international legal standards, is anyone under the age of 18. Most of the world’s countries have also set the legal age of moajority or adulthood at 18. The term “juvenile” also appears on human rights texts although it is not exactly interchangeable; it usually refers to those who are able to be charged and tried in the juvenile justice system.
Concepts that help define childhood, such as maturity and the age of criminal responsibility, rely largely on social and cultural factors. In some societies, childhood is a condition fixed by the condition of the child within the community rather than his or her age. Those still under parental authority are regarded as children, no matter what their age, while those who have taken on adult roles and responsibilities are given social rights and duties accordingly. In much of the world, even small children have significant economic responsibilities: they have to work, either to support themselves or as part of the family economy, so there is little time left over for school or play.
“Humanity owes children the best it can give them. Children will enjoy special protection and will have opportunities and services, given by the law and other means, so that they can develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthful and normal way, as well as in conditions of freedom and dignity… children must be protected against all form of abandonment, cruelty and exploitation ” (Declaration of Children’s Rights).
Children are entitled to adult protection, but they are not adult property: children also have the right to make decisions on their own behalf according to their maturity. Children have the right to be heard and to have their own opinions on matters affecting them taken into account “in accordance with the age and maturity of the child” (Amnesty International, 2000). Very young children rely on others to express their views and protect their best interests; as they grow older, they become more able to speak for themselves and engage in decision making on their own behalf.
In many societies, even small children have significant economic responsibilities: they have to work, either to support themselves or as part of the family economy, so there is little time left over for school or play. A South African activist and educator has pointed out that the conception of the child as “an individual shorn of most obligations, economically dependent, politically uninvolved, emotionally and morally immature, and secure within and represented by a family”, fits the experiences of very few children in the world (Amnesty International, 2000).
Yet those children who are forced to bear the financial burden and emotional responsibilities of adulthood are at even greater risk of abuse precisely because they are not perceived as children. It is probably not recognized that they are still emotionally and physically immature, and so in need of the additional safeguards and protections provided by the relevant legal standards (Reynolds, 1998).
Worldwide abuse against children
Torture and mistreatment are prohibited by international human rights and humanitarian law, and almost all national law. But children are entitled to even higher levels of protection; international standards guarantee children protection from all forms of violence, whatever the reason, whoever the perpetrator. Article 19 of the Children’s Convention obliges states parties to protect children from “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child” (Amnesty International, 2000).
Nevertheless, the abuse to the children continues being the world’s secret shame, a daily reality ignored by many governments. Anywhere in the world we see the same general pattern of abuses: there hardly exist any differences between the police treatment that receive children in China and Brazil; or between their conditions of imprisonment in Paraguay or Russia; and the violence against children in armed conflicts is as devastating in Sierra Leona as in Afghanistan.
According to Amnesty International in occasion of the celebration in November of 2000 of the tenth anniversary of the Convention of the UN on Children’s Rights, governments worldwide are failing to fulfill his obligation to protect children from abuses against human rights. The abuses that the children suffer go from torture and bad treatments from the hands of the police to the homicides in the hands of their own families; from the traffic of children to the captive work; from unavoidable prostitution to performing work in places where they are exploded; from the use of the children as soldiers to the executions of minors. The list of abuses that children undergo is interminable, although almost all countries except the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention on Children’s Rights; also, most of the countries they have ratified other international treaties like the Convention against Torture.
TYPES OF TORTURE AND MISTREATMENT
I. Armed Conflicts
War is a daily reality for million children. Fourteen million children have become refugees or internally displaced within their own country as a result of the conflicts for which they are not responsible. It is calculated that more than a third of the victims of the modern wars are young (Amnesty International, 2000).
a) Torture and mutilation during war
Children are specially exposed to undergo abuses in situations of armed conflict. Many are tortured solely because they live in enemy territory, for their family’s political or religious ideas or for their ethnic origin. During the nine years of civil war in Sierra Leona, children have undergone abuses in a scale without precedents: thousands of them have been victims of homicide or mutilations, kidnapped and forced to fight, or raped and put under sexual slavery. To this we must add the fact that children who have lived an armed conflict usually are traumatized by the death and destruction they have witnessed.
In some cases, perpetrators are paramilitary forces linked to government soldiers. In Colombia, 17-year-old Elena Morales Souto was dragged from her home on 20 July 1997 by a group of heavily armed men, who allegedly identified themselves as paramilitaries from Abrego and Oca?a. A short distance from her house, she was beaten and threatened with having her throat cut if she did not disclose the whereabouts of her husband, Hugo Uma?a, and her father, Luis Morales Perez. The girl allegedly recognized one of her aggressors at the military barracks of the Santander Battalion on 23 July. Other members of her family, including nine children, were allegedly tortured physically and psychologically at their home by paramilitaries. Before withdrawing, the paramilitaries told the family that they would come back and kill them all, down to the smallest child, if they ever found Luis Morales Perez or Hugo Uma?a there.
b) Children as soldiers
At the present time there are more than 300.000 minors younger than 18 years fighting in armed conflicts in more than 30 countries worldwide. In the United Kingdom there are more than 9.000 minors younger than 18 in the Armed Forces. Children are especially vulnerable to threatening practices bad treatments from their supervisors or their companions. Many children are forced to join the army by means of intimidation; others are kidnapped by the Armed Forces and others join voluntarily because they look for food and refuge. The mortality rate among children at war is usually high because of their lack of experience and formation and the fear they feel during the process.
Child soldiers are at risk of being tortured by the enemy if caught, and by their own forces as a form of discipline or training. Children are often treated brutally and punishments for mistakes or desertion are severe; children are injured and sometimes killed during harsh training regimes. Although both boys and girls are used as fighters, girls are at particular risk of rape, sexual harassment and abuse. The severe psychological consequences of active participation in hostilities, with children both witnessing and committing atrocities, may only become apparent over a long period.
These psychological effects on these children are immeasurable: many have killed, mutilated or raped and all have witnessed such atrocities. During the incursion into Freetown by the RUF and AFRC forces in January 1999 — when at least 2,000 civilians were killed, more than 500 people had limbs severed, and the rape of girls and women was systematic — it was estimated that children comprised some 10 per cent of the fighters. During the first few weeks after they are disarmed and demobilized, former child combatants are often reported to be aggressive and violent, to show other behavioral problems, to suffer nightmares, alienation, outbursts of anger and an inability to interact socially.
The problem of child soldiers is by no means confined to Africa or to armed opposition groups. In the UK, for instance, there are more than 9,000 under-18s in the armed forces. The power and hierarchy relationships on which the armed forces are based make children especially vulnerable to ill-treatment. In August 1997, a 17-year-old girl recruit was forced to perform a sex act and was raped by a drunken instructor while she was on maneuvers. Other incidents have included bullying, beatings and sexual abuse. The USA also allows under-18s to be recruited, and only agreed in January 2000 to ban the deployment of child soldiers in combat.
c) Children as refugees
Armed conflict has also forced millions of children around the world to flee their homes in search of refuge. Sometimes they go with their families, sometimes alone; many get separated on the way. In Africa alone, conflict has forced more than 20 million people from their homes. About five million are refugees who have found asylum in a neighboring country; many more — an estimated 16 million — are internally displaced persons (IDPs) within their own country.
Russian forces have been detaining people at checkpoints and in the territories under their control; often while carrying out identity checks on civilian convoys fleeing to Ingushetia. Witnesses say that children as young as 10 have been detained on suspicion of belonging to armed Chechen groups. The detainees are sent to “filtration” centers where they are held without access to their relatives, lawyers or the outside world. The testimonies of the survivors confirm that the men, women and children held in these camps are routinely and systematically tortured: they are variously beaten with hammers and clubs, tortured with electric shocks and tear gas, and raped.
II. Children Under Police Custody
In March of 1997, three children between the ages of 10 and 12 were detained when they gathered pieces of metal in a waste basket in Istambul, Turkey. After accusing them of robbing a tape recorder, agents took them to the police station, where they kept them locked without communication during thirty two hours. According to the children, they undressed them, leaving them in their underclothes, and they locked them up them in a toilet, where the police officers urinated on them and forced them to lie down on human excrement (Amnesty International, 2000).
Institutionalized children and young people are victims of police force abuse, illegal halting at police stations, violations and tortures within the institutions allegedly called protective. The power and the authority are enforced in these institutions in a violent and arbitrary form, using physical punishment, denying food and through the conditions of inhabitable old, anti-functional establishments without water or electricity (ONG, 1995).
Minors under police custody are particularly exposed to rape violation and sexual abuse from the police as well as from other prisoners. Police officers are responsible for most documented cases of torture; the most common and rapidly increasing form of torture against children is probably the beating of criminal suspects and in police custody. Beatings can be severe, and even deadly. Children have been struck with fists, sticks, chair legs, gun-butts, whips, iron pipes and electrical cords. They have suffered bruises, concussion, internal bleeding, broken bones, lost teeth and ruptured organs.
Children detained by the police have also been sexually assaulted; burned with cigarettes or electricity; exposed to extremes of heat and cold; deprived of food, drink or sleep; or made to stand, sit or hang for long hours in awkward positions. Yet accusations of torture or ill-treatment against law enforcement officials are seldom thoroughly investigated, and even those cases that are prosecuted rarely result in a conviction.
Torture often occurs when the police first apprehend their victim: the abuse may start on the street, in the police car, or under interrogation in police cells. Children are often held without their parents being informed of their whereabouts. This is significant because where children are held without access to relatives or legal counsel, the risk of physical abuse increases dramatically.
Police officers who are not given adequate training or resources are likely to rely on torture as a method of investigation; in some countries the police are encouraged to use coercive methods against criminal suspects in response to high levels of crime. In some cases, the purpose is to extract
information, or to obtain a “confession”, true or false. In others, punishment and humiliation appear to be the primary aim.
In many countries, the treatment received by minors detained in juvenile centers seriously endangers their health and well-being. In the United States there have been complaints stating that the juvenile center’s staff has hit and kicked children under their care, have chained them, they have sprinkled them with chemical products and have used electroshock devices against them. For example, an investigation carried out by the Department of Justice in Kentucky concluded that the civil employees of a juvenile center regularly used paralyzing electroshock guns and pepper sprayers to control youngsters who did not collaborate and to separate those who fought. Children detained in that center also denounced that the civil staff often struck them.
Children in custody, both girls and boys, are also vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse. Even the threat of rape — sometimes repeated night after night, while the child sits alone in a dark cell — can cause severe psychological trauma amounting to torture. Rape or sexual abuse, like other forms of torture, may be used to intimidate or humiliate the victim, by demonstrating the absolute power of the torturer over his victim. Rape in custody is not an act of private violence, but a form of torture, for which the state bears responsibility.
The consequences of rape are devastating. Girls who have been raped may be deemed unfit for marriage, which can mean a lifetime of exclusion from social acceptance and economic security. Boys may be labeled weak or unmanly, which could permanently damage their status in their community. Both face the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and girls may become pregnant as a result of rape.
It is also necessary to point out the degrading conditions that undergo children of the streets; many of them work like traveling salesmen, opening doors of taxis, or similar jobs because of their family’s financial needs, and are exploited by adults who take advantage of the extreme poverty situation and deficiencies of these youngsters (ONG, 1995).
Children forced to live on the streets are particularly vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment. Many survive on begging, petty crime or prostitution, activities which bring them regularly to the attention of the police. Some are detained and ill-treated simply because they are easy prey; others are arrested under laws which make destitution, vagrancy and begging criminal offences. Many are victims of torture and abuse, and sometimes murder, by police and other authorities. Amnesty International has documented violence against street children in many countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Nepal and Uganda. What these attacks
have in common is the almost complete impunity enjoyed by those who perpetrate them (Amnesty International, 2000).
III. Children in Detention
The detention of children ranks low on the list of criminal justice priorities in most countries, so financial resources and government support for improving conditions tend to be limited. Staffing problems are rife, with severe understaffing, lack of training and low pay a feature of juvenile institutions in most parts of the world. Children are often detained under conditions that pose a serious threat to their health and safety. Juvenile detention centers are often housed in old and disused adult facilities, with poor heat, light and ventilation; many have no educational or
recreational facilities. Conditions are often unsanitary, leaving inmates exposed to disease and other health problems, which can be exacerbated by the often severe overcrowding. Custodial institutions for children seldom have appropriate medical facilities, staff or supplies. In some cases, lack of nourishing food results in malnutrition and, in extreme cases, starvation. Many child detainees are dependent on family members to bring their meals, others have to pay or bribe the authorities just to
get adequate and decent food.
Over the years, there has been a steady stream of allegations about physical punishments amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; including boys being kicked, beaten, suspended upside down, having plastic bags put over their heads, being beaten on the back with a hammer or having their hands and feet scalded. Some reported being denied food, drink, or access to toilets — sometimes for several days.
In the USA, children have been held in cruel conditions in overcrowded facilities, where they have also been deprived of adequate mental health care, education, and rehabilitation programs. Some have been subjected to brutal force and cruel punishments, including shackles, chemical sprays and electro-shock devices. Solitary confinement is also a common punishment in juvenile facilities in the USA, in violation of international standards. In March 2000, the US Justice
Department sought an emergency court order to stop ill-treatment of children at the Jena Juvenile Justice Center in Louisiana. Children held there were routinely subjected to excessive force and prolonged isolation, and deprived of shoes, blankets and medical care. Chemical agents were also abused. In November 1999 a CS gas grenade, designed for outdoor use, was used in a dormitory containing 46 children. The children fled outside where they were made to lie face down on concrete, some only in their underwear, for hours. Several were allegedly sprayed in the face with mace while on the ground. The memorandum in support of the injunction noted that “penal
officers at Jena have rubbed inmates’ faces into cement floors, taken away clothing, slammed youths against doors, walls, and floors, and forced naked juveniles to squat with their buttocks in
the air while searches are performed … evidence exists showing officers actually have encouraged peer violence.”
The situations mentioned above also apply to other institutions such as orphanages and refugee centers that in addition can be vulnerable to a great deal of exploitation by being used like subjects in drug experimentation and undergo cruelty, negligence, confinements and corporal punishment.