While a group of girls and boys dance, another prepares for the theater, a third paints their clay creations and a fourth is dedicated to reviewing mathematics with the help of a volunteer. Outside, another performs sports activities. Everyone takes advantage of their time, and enhances their skills in Safe Spaces in 37 communities in the country.
To find out about the work they do in favor of the rights of children and adolescents and to promote the exchange of experiences and good practices, the First Meeting of Safe Spaces was held at the National Stadium in which the participants 180 leaders and 37 community organizations from all over the country including NGOs, cooperatives, churches and 30 Community Development Associations (ADC). 42 girls and boys also participate in the activity that reflect on the fulfillment of their rights and will make a statement before the plenary of leaders.
A UNICEF strategy
The Safe Spaces Program is a strategy that UNICEF promotes at the international level to guarantee protection at the community level where children and adolescents live. In Costa Rica, the National Children’s Board (PANI) leads this initiative in alliance with the National Directorate for Community Development (DINADECO), the General Directorate of Migration and Immigration (DGME). The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) advises technically and financially to involve the Local Development Associations and Organizations of the participating communities, in alliance with the Office of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the State Department of the United States and the Embassy of the United States in Costa Rica.
From 2021 to date, 37 Safe Spaces have been created throughout the country, for national and foreign children and adolescents in priority communities of migrant destinations, providing child protection, psychosocial assistance and learning recovery services for a monthly average of 2,800 highly vulnerable children and adolescents. More than 800 community leaders have also been trained on children’s rights, psychological first aid, and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.
“Boys, girls and adolescents have the right to live and grow in a protective and safe environment, where affective treatment prevails and their health, education, participation, and expression is fostered and where the priority is respect for their rights and their comprehensive development. The first protective environment is the family. However, school, organized groups, and other institutions must also offer these resources.
For this reason, the Safe Spaces Program, the result of the alliance between PANI, which leads this initiative in the country, with other State institutions, UNICEF, the Office of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the State Department of the States United States and the Embassy of the United States in Costa Rica, constitutes a protective environment for our children and adolescents”, commented the Minister of Children and Adolescents, GlorianaLópezFuscaldo.
“According to PANI data, in Costa Rica the main manifestations of violence against children are associated: sexual violence and trafficking in minors; violence through physical and psychological aggression and corporal punishment; negligence; and online violence. That is why we must make greater efforts to protect children and adolescents. At UNICEF, we believe that Safe Spaces are essential to create this protection belt for children and adolescents who live in Costa Rica and who are forced to migrate from their countries of origin. The leaders of the 37 communities where the safe spaces are located have become a transforming force to achieve compliance with the rights of children”, stressed Patricia Portela de Souza, UNICEF Representative in Costa Rica.
“For the Embassy of the United States it is a privilege to support the Safe Spaces program since they promote human security from the places with the greatest challenges in the country, and this is an objective that we have in common. We are sure that investing in art, sports and culture strengthens the rights of children and adolescents. This type of intervention also promotes a culture of prevention and peace to have better citizens”, said Robert Alter, Director of the Office of Counternarcotics Affairs, Citizen Security and Justice.
More safe spaces for children
In 2022, the Safe Spaces organized nearly 1,100 activities for children, equivalent to an average of 1,650 hours per week contributed by people from the communities. A map illustrates the location of the Safe Spaces promoted in the last 2 years, 5 of which are safe spaces specialized in providing humanitarian support to children, adolescents and families who are migrating in transit to northern countries.
Geographically, the Safe Spaces are concentrated in the border and coastal areas of the country. Safe spaces are for all minors, regardless of their geographical origin, hence they facilitate the integration of migrant populations, especially in case of forced migration (violence, poverty, socioeconomic situation, political persecution in their country of origin).
In 2021, UNICEF warned that the number of children and adolescents affected by migration in Latin America and the Caribbean could reach 3.5 million in 2022, in the launch of its largest humanitarian appeal for the region. This figure, which includes migrant children and teenagers as well as those living in host communities, represents an increase of 47% compared to 2021.
Costa Rica has a long tradition of receiving migrants and refugees. Our sociopolitical and geographical conditions make us a very attractive country, not only for transit but also for the final destination of these populations that seek to survive, improve their living situation, and who must flee violence or poverty in their country of origin. This is how, in this context, arriving minor populations require safe spaces to develop in an integral way. In the mid and long term, the institutions expect to increase the number of Safe Spaces and achieve a minimum participation of 16,000 minors.