Situated between Costa Rica to the south and Honduras to the north, Nicaragua is the poorest country in Latin America. This endemic poverty has contributed to the emergence of violence that touches the whole of Nicaraguan society. In this extremely difficult context, young people are not spared. Nearly 160 minors are in prison at the moment and more than 4,700 criminal actions against teenagers are taken each year. In view of this situation, Terre des hommes is working to bring in alternatives to imprisonment for children. Tdh works closely, on a daily basis, with the government, which shows proof of its wish to improve the system of juvenile justice. In addition to educational activities, psychological monitoring and training courses offered, Tdh has been requested by the State to support the Brigade for Minors of the National Police Force in its work on prevention. With the activities introduced, a young person to whom an alternative to prison is offered is one who will have the chance to become reintegrated in society.
Developing a culture of peace in the schools
The pilot project ‘Yo prevengo desde mi escuela’ that could be translated as ‘School prevention and I’ was run jointly by Tdh and the Doris Maria Morales Tijerino college in Managua. 17 youngsters and 2 teachers were given training about school violence so they could tackle subjects like conflict resolution, group work or self-respect, with their schoolmates and pupils from neighbouring schools. The main aim is to develop a culture of peace and understanding in all the surrounding institutions. These meetings, stretching from August to December, enabled dealing with the very frequent cases of aggression in the schools of Nicaragua . Once made aware of the situation, youth workers and their colleagues wanted to continue to hold these workshops so as to reach the greatest number of young people in local neighbourhoods. Carmen de Felice, Tdh’s delegate in Nicaragua, insisted on thanking all the participants personally, and spoke of real success.
Continuing the dialogue with imprisoned youngsters
The work of Terre des hommes in Nicaragua thus includes a constituent for the prevention of violence and also gives support to adolescents detained in the country’s prisons. Despite the efforts made by the government there is a considerable lack of the means to develop specialized centres for reintegration, and young people are imprisoned in the same penal institution as adults. In this more-than-difficult environment, Tdh attempts to establish talks with the children in jail as well as with their families and the various parties involved.
On January 15th, a meeting was held with representatives from Tdh and the parents of youngsters in the criminal centre for adolescents in Tipitapa (in the Department of Managua). The fathers, mothers and guardians as well as officials from the Supreme Court of Justice and from the prison service met together at the same table to tackle the relationships between young people in the centre and the means available to improve their conditions of imprisonment. The talks made it possible for the families in particular to request more flexibility in the procedure for revision of cases so as not to cause considerable delays, from which the imprisoned youngsters are the first victims. The new judge present there undertook to contribute efforts with all his teams to shorten such delays.
More broadly, the meeting enabled Tdh’s representatives to show that the behaviour of the teenagers has considerably improved when they are at this centre. There are no longer organized bands and the young people mix and take part in activities all together. Parallel to its work of heightening awareness with the adolescents, Tdh encourages the families to continue talks with their children. Permanent efforts must indeed be made by everyone. By way of reminder, in Nicaragua, more than 3,500 youngsters are still members of a gang.