Breaking the cycle of violence against children in Honduras and El Salvador

Irene Estefanía González / Inter-American Dialogue

On October 11, 2019 the Inter-American Dialogue hosted the event “Breaking the cycle of violence against children in Honduras and El Salvador” featuring panelists Daniela Ligiero, Executive Director & CEO of Together for Girls; Rachel Dotson, Senior Director of Gender and Migration Initiatives at Kids in Need of Defense and Manuel Orozco, Director of the Migration, Remittances and Development Program at the Inter-American Dialogue. The event was moderated by Michael Camilleri, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Inter-American Dialogue. The event was an opportunity to understand and discuss the dire and complex situation facing children in Honduras and El Salvador. Specifically, the wide spread violence and the normalization of gender-based violence plaguing children in their homes, schools and communities. Camilleri introduced the panelists and asked them to give their initial reflections on the topic. 

Panelist Rachel Dotson

Dotson, with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) an organization that works with migrant children in Mexico and the United States, pointed at gender-based violence as a major driver of child migration. She described the dire situation facing migrant children and underlined the need for governments, civil society to prioritize violence prevention. Ligiero shared a satirical view, pointing at how in the last century, violence overall has decreased. With a hopeful tone, Ligiero noted how, violence can be prevented. She also acknowledged that pockets of places with violence against children and women persist. In the context of the migration crisis, she brought the audience attention to interesting points, such as the fact that when a parent migrates, a child left behind is more vulnerable to experiencing violence. She endorsed a public health approach to violence, pointing out the importance of studying and understanding the problem, developing and testing interventions, finding out what works, and bringing it to scale. She also expressed that focus son evidence-based programs to reduce violence is paramount.

Orozco started quoting an interesting statistic to give context to the problem facing children and families desiring to leave their countries. He pointed out that 32 percent of those who wanted to migrate with their children experienced violence. There is a problem of cultural violence, a culture that favors coercion over consent, lamented Orozco.

Panelist Manuel Orozco

Having underlined that there is a relationship with violence and migration, the panelists touched on a few key issues effecting children with respect to the power of the state, family and social norms in Honduras and El Salvador. Namely, weak institutions and social norms that normalize violence. Ligiero spoke to how these two factors are not a good mix and that sexual violence is a hidden pandemic, noting that in Honduras, the main perpetrator of sexual violence is a family member. Furthermore, Dotson commented on the impunity enjoyed by adults in intra-family sexual violence cases, offering examples on how officials often discriminate against children.

Orozco expounded on this idea of adult control and patriarchy. He discussed the role and power of the trinity in patriarchal society: the father of the country, father of the church and father of the house. In the context of a male dominated society and state fragility, violence against children is enabled. In discussing what needs to be done with respect to issues such as toxic masculinity, Orozco stated that elites must be challenged on their perceptions and mindsets. The conversation shifted towards discussing solutions to the violence against children in Honduras and El Salvador. Ligiero focused on an all hands-on deck approach to combating the violence, expressing that no one strategy works and that all strategies must be used. Dotson noted programs must be supported by local communities. Orozco pointed out that inequality is at the center of everything and that economic policies should also address favoring women equally. Speaking on US domestic policy related to migration, Dotson lamented how the barrage of new rules, changes on asylum is problematic.

Panelist Daniela Ligiero

In wrapping up the discussion on violence against children in Honduras and El Salvador, Ligiero noted that violence can be stopped and that everyone has a role to play in preventing and reducing it. It is key, she stated, to act and not be paralyzed by how bad situations may be.







Press Coverage: 

Expertos en Washington abordan el tema de los ciclos de violencia contra niños en Centroamérica.VOA (Oct 11, 2019) 

Honduras y El Salvador luchan contra la violencia de genero e infantil, IQLATINO (Oct 23, 2019)

Watch the full recording of this event here.

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