Socio-political crisis in Chile: Childhood and youth agencies and citizenships towards a new Constitution.

Chile is living a socio-political crisis. Chileans are asking for significant social, economic and political changes to diminish the rates of inequality and poverty that Chile prevalent in the country. I came back to Chile at the end of September, to carry out my fieldwork. Three weeks after arriving in my country, the social crisis exploded. On 25tth October, we had the biggest demonstration in the history of Chile, with more than 1,200,000 people gathered in Plaza Italia, in Santiago de Chile.

Although almost all the demonstrations have been peaceful, high levels of violence by the Chilean police against demonstrators have characterized these public expressions of discontent with Chilean economic and social inequalities. The social crisis has affected children and young people in Chile in multiple ways. According to Chile’s Child Advocacy, 174 children and young people have been victims of violations of their human rights: they have been affected by severe physical maltreatment, psychological abuse, illegal detentions, and in some cases, reports of sexual abuse.

The biggest demonstration in the history of Chile (25th October 2019)

The biggest demonstration in the history of Chile (25th October 2019)

Chileans are fighting for, and demanding, a new Constitution. The current Chilean Constitution was drawn up in 1980, during the most violent period of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. During the dictatorship, the military regiment murdered thousands of Chileans. Children and young people were also targeted by this violence and abuse: the dictatorship tortured and killed hundreds of children and adolescents (Venegas, 2014).

A key fact about the existing Constitution is that the words “children”, “childhood” and “youth” do not appear, even once, in the document that expresses the fundamental principles of the Chilean state. Although we are no longer under the dictatorship, we still keep the same fundamental document that ruled the state and its institutions during the dictatorship. It is possible to argue that these social, political and historical movements have influenced contemporary views and understandings of childhood and youth in Chile.

Different institutions have been organising meetings, seminars and discussions around the significance of the participation of childhood and youth in the process of elaborating the new Constitution. They have raised the issue of the importance and meaning of considering children and young people’s voices. Even though children and adolescents are not allowed to vote in Chile, as the minimum voting age is 18 years old, they are social actors and agents; thus their perspectives must be considered in the forthcoming possible social changes.

I hear the concept of “citizenship” almost every hour in the different Chilean mass media outlets. But when they speak about “citizenship”, they only consider that this concept refers to people above 18, because they can vote. When you become an “adult” in Chile at 18 years old and you can vote, you start to become a citizen. Children and young people are not included in the concept of “citizenship”, and their position and rights as social agents are diminished.

niños en cabildo

Children in a Cabildo Infantil at Calama

The “Cabildos Infantiles” are open forums for children and young people. Different institutions are currently working now on how to develop these open forums for children and young people, aiming to give them a space for the expression of their perspectives about what they want for their country. The implementation of these open meetings is certainly a methodological and logistical challenge for those working on them, because of the diversity of childhood experiences.

Chile is living a difficult moment, mainly because of the violence and the people that have been killed by the Chilean state through their police and army forces. Some people like to call this historical moment “The social explosion”, but others prefer to call it “October’s social revolution”. The people say in the streets: “we’ve found each other now, we need to keep together”. This is a moment to make real changes. Chile owes a historic debt to children and youth: their rights have been transgressed systematically. I hope that this social movement will allow us to change things for Chilean children and young people through the inclusion of their voices and perspectives.

Loreto Rodriguez 
Childhood and Youth PhD
CIRCY Postgraduate Research Assistant

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