Human Rights

The Rights of Minors Are No Priority in Chile

An agreement to share private information about minors in the minors’ service (SENAME) with intelligence services generated controversy. On Monday, the government annulled the agreement. Nevertheless, the intentions from the current administration become clear again, argues Francisco Infante Aravena.

In February, domestic intelligence agency ANI and the national minors’ service (SENAME) signed a secret data-sharing agreement. SENAME’s subcontractors’ union made the agreement public on April 9, via a letter to the children’s national ombudsperson, Patricia Muñoz García. With the agreement, the state, represented by the intelligence agency, seeks to spy not only on children it pretends to protect but also their personal networks, including entirely innocent citizens.

Both signatories base the contract on a government agreement from July 2018 that “considers it necessary to move toward a modern, integrated and functional intelligence system.” To this end, ANI must “order the application of intelligence measures with the aim of detecting, neutralizing and countering the actions of national and international terrorist groups.”

The acute question in this context is what relevance do children and adolescents, under protection by the state and subject to social reintegration, have for the intelligence agency in charge of dealing with terrorist-type situations?

More about the deal:

Photo Series: Portraits of the Protests

A Long Journey

The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Chile in 1990, represented the first international agreement to legally define children’s and adolescents’ human rights. Among them count full rights to physical, mental, and social development and the free expression of their visions and opinions.

However, Chile’s ratification has remained an abstraction since the state has never prioritized the full exercise of rights in childhood. To the contrary, it has pursued permanent criminalization. This approach has intensified in recent years, including under the previous government, reflected in public policies that have demonized youth. As examples serve the Safe Classroom Law and the extensive debate on including minors in the Preventive Identity Control Law.

To this add harrowing statistics published in a report by the UN’s rights of the child committee (UN, 2018). According to the report, Chile is deficient in the exercise of rights in childhood but exceeds in abusive practices toward the youth population, especially during the social uprising of October 2019, as registered by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

It’s naive to think the moment when the ANI-SENAME agreement was signed was accidental. Between October and December, 4,080 children and adolescents were detained during protests and riots, of which 186 went into preventive detention, according to data from the Public Defender’s Office and published by SENAME’s subcontractors union. The report suggests a direct channel between ANI and SENAME existed long before February.

Chilean law to safeguard security in classrooms declared “unconstitutional”

Double Stigma

Being born into poverty carries high degrees of discrimination in Chile. This reality prevents a healthy development of affected children and creates difficulties for inclusion into the social system. Children that had their rights violated due to their social situation, or adolescents that have committed a crime, enter the SENAME system. From then on, they confront the double stigma of being born poor and being ‘a SENAME child.’

One aspect in the ANI-SENAME agreement that has not received the attention it deserves relates to in-depth information on parents, acquaintances,  and the extended family of SENAME children. This information is not just available for the institutions’ direct employees but also for some 12,000 service providers in its network.

This means, ANI has potentially access to a pool with data on citizens that have not committed – and aren’t even suspected of having committed – any crimes. These persons have no relevance to any of the purposes defined in the national intelligence law.

Given that SENAME does not have the necessary expertise, how will its functionaries discern which information is relevant to the intelligence agency? Will the institution afford an intelligence agency free access to its databases? Will the intelligence agency decide what’s relevant?

Although the agreement was annulled, it is clear, that the state continues to systematically criminalize and stigmatize children, especially those from the margins of society. No sign is in sight that could signal a peaceful re-encounter between the state and its most vulnerable citizens.

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