AROUND 23,000 children are at risk in this country. The figures, which were revealed last week at a meeting of the Comissões de Protecção de Menores (commissions for the protection of minors) in Castelo de Vide, include children up to the age of 14 who are victims of ill treatment, sexual, physical and psychological abuse.
The report, details of which were revealed in Correio da Manhã newspaper earlier this week, relates to the cases received by the commissions in 2004, revealing an increase of 2,000 children at risk, against the number of cases recorded in the previous year. In 2003, the commissions dealt with the cases of more than 21,000 children, the majority of whom were aged between 13 and 15. Of the 13,488 cases that led to prosecutions, 35.5 per cent involved negligence, 20.6 per cent were due to truancy from school, while 16.4 per cent of cases involved physical and psychological abuse.
As in 2003, the figures from 2004 may not reflect the true picture. According to Luís Villas Boas, the vice president of the European Social Action Network and the President of the Comissão de Acompanhamento da Lei da Adopção, the commission that follows the country’s adoption laws, 150,000 children are living in Portugal in risk situations, facing poverty and social exclusion. These figures conceal real dramas lived by children who desperately need protection. Each number has a face and a name – Ana, João, Gabriela, Rui – who may die, victims of violence.
Shockingly, these figures put Portugal in first place on the list of countries with the highest prevalence of maltreatment of children. According to UNICEF, Portugal occupied first place in 2004 (the year in which Joana, the little girl from the village of Figueira, Portimão, disappeared)for cases involving maltreatment of children with fatal consequences, in a list of 27 industrialised countries. Also according to UNICEF, in Portugal, 3.7 children out of every 100,000, under the age of 15, die every year victims of negligence or maltreatment.
A lack of information sharing relating to children potentially at risk was one of the criticisms made this week by sociologist Ana Nunes de Almeida at a hearing of the sub-Commission for Equality and Opportunities at parliament. “There is resistance from childcare professionals at many workplaces, who believe that information concerning the children who pass through their hands does not have to be given to others. Due to this culture of shielding, we have a situation that does not work in favour of the children,” referred Ana Almeida, emphasising that this can only benefit the abusers. Ana Almeida co-ordinated a study entitled Maltreatment of Children in Portugal, which concluded that, in 65 per cent of cases, the parents were responsible for the abuse. MP Rosário Carneiro referred that, on conclusion of the hearing, “the sub-commission must define action programmes”.