The aim is to provide better protection for the country’s children. The Peruvian government is also looking into the banning of work for all children under 14 years. Currently around a quarter of children between six and 17 years perform some kind of labour in Peru.
Both changes have their critics. When it comes to child labour and with high rates of poverty in the country, many Peruvians feel it’s acceptable for children to help with family finances by taking on work outside school hours in sectors such as agriculture or street-selling. Many adults therefore feel a ban on all work for children under fourteen goes too far.
However, with regards to the new Code to protect minors against violence, some campaigners feel this does not go far enough. For example, the Code does not explicitly denounce sexual violence or corporal punishment. In a deeply conservative and religious country, any intrusion into the privacy of family life is viewed with suspicion by some people. But speaking to the BBC, one worker in the charity Action for Children said the organisation had seen children “who were so badly punished by their parents that they died”. There are also plans to stipulate that no public sexual health information or advice should be given to minors. As workers in the field point out, this leaves vulnerable children being sexually abused in a very dangerous position with regards to their mental and physical health.
Some schools do already try to provide youngsters with a support network, particularly in violent neighbourhoods. For example, in the poor district of Villa El Salvador in the capital of Lima, one local school offers support to youngsters suffering from threats and bullying, either on the streets or at home. In cases of suspected domestic violence or abuse, a local youth leader offers to talk with parents.
It’s now widely recognised that when children are surrounded by a violent environment, this can have long-term consequences into adulthood. It’s common for children with violent backgrounds to suffer from mental health problems and depression later on in life. Research also suggests that violence can lead to more aggressive behaviour, as the brain puts more energy into developing parts which deal with survival techniques. However, in a country like Peru, where the public sector is already overstretched dealing with drug- and gang-related violence, it’s hard for officials to worry about a next generation of violence-prone adults, when they are busy dealing with the current ones.