Realizing Child Rights in Argentina
Children in Argentina are often able to enjoy fulfilment of their rights. Children are nonetheless vulnerable to serious risks which continue to undermine their rights, including poverty, child labour, exploitation and discrimination.
Realization of Children’s Rights Index: 8,5 / 10
Yellow level: Satisfactory situation
Population: 45.1 million
Pop. ages 0-14: 24%
Life expectancy: 77 years
Under-5 mortality rate: 9‰
Argentina at a glance
Argentina is a very large country located at the southern-most peninsula of the South American continent. Its capital city is Buenos Aires. Argentina was originally populated by several distinct indigenous groups. The Incas had made inroads into the highlands of the Northwest, whilst other indigenous groups were largely nomadic hunters and fishers, such as those in the Chaco, the Tehuelche of Patagonia, and the Querandí and Puelche (Guennakin) of the Pampas.
The Mapuche Indians, a warrior tribe based at the very bottom of Patagonia in both Argentina and Chile, were the only Indian tribe never conquered by the Spanish. The Argentina of today took shape only after repeated brutal attempts at colonisation by the Spanish, with much British interference, accompanied by internal movements of resistance. Argentina was subjected to periods of European colonisation for around 300 years, from 1524 to 1816 which has contributed to some of the challenges its society continues to face today (Frommer, n.d.; Galleano, 1971).
During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ from 1973 to 1983, up to 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared or killed due to state terrorism and right-wing death squads which hunted down anybody associated with socialism, from a military dictatorship (or junta) which was supported by the USA during a long period of political and economic instability. In its recent history, Argentina has experienced continued periods of internal political conflict and has been subject to autocratic governments.
Indeed, the country experienced the most severe social and economic crisis of its history in 2001, with the nation’s economy collapsing entirely the following year. Although Argentina’s economy recovered relatively swiftly, becoming one of the largest in Latin America, the country continues to suffer from long-term effects of the crisis (SOS Children’s Villages). Child rights in Argentina thus unfold in a complex and difficult context post-colonialism, the climate emergency and the neoliberal international order.
Status of children’s rights
Argentina ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990, and since 1994, it has integrated the CRC into its national constitution. Argentina has also ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Argentina has forbidden the enrolment of children younger than eighteen in armed conflicts, according to a statement included as a declaration at the time of ratification of the second Protocol.
Despite these crucial steps towards strengthening the nation’s child rights legal framework, meaningful legislative reform on a national level that would enshrine the commitments made in the CRC for the protection of child rights, took time to implement (International Library of Congress, 2020). Furthermore, Argentina had yet to ratify the Escazú Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, which it had signed in 2018.
Following years of advocacy, in 2005 Argentina enacted a national Law for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents (Law 26061). Its purpose is the protection of children and adolescents, in order to guarantee the full exercise and enjoyment of their rights which are granted under Argentina’s legal system as well as under international treaties to which the country is party. These rights cover health, education, leisure and culture. Law 26061 lays the basis for a juvenile justice system and calls for institutionalised children to be integrated back into Argentinian society.
Each province will create mechanisms to protect children from abuse and exploitation. The law also established a set of public policies that consider girls, boys, and adolescents as subjects with their own rights. This is the first comprehensive statute for the protection of children in the country, with a clear definition of the responsibilities of the family, society, and the government with regard to the universal rights of the children as provided under the CRC (International Library of Congress, 2020).
Addressing the needs of children
Argentina has done much to ensure children’s right to education. School enrolment for both primary and secondary education has increased in Argentina, primary education is almost universal and rates are very high with 100% literacy amongst 15 to 24 year olds (UNICEF, n.d.). Moreover, the country has launched “Plan Familia”; a nation-wide programme aimed at assisting poor families so that their children can attend school and receive primary health care. The project aims to eventually reach 500,000 families.
In compliance with the commitments under the CRC, Law 26061 regulates the right of the children to education as a fundamental human right. The law stipulates the right of children to a free public education and for them to reach their full development as human beings and as citizens. This right to education must be exercised whilst respecting the children’s creativity, culture, and language of origin. The law also enshrines children’s right to access, and to permanently attend, an educational facility close to their place of residence. In case a child is missing their identification documents, the child should be provisionally registered in the educational institution. The right of children and adolescents with special needs or with disabilities to a comprehensive education is further provided for. Public education is free at all levels, including education for children with special needs (International Library of Congress 2020).
In addition, Argentina is located, along with Brazil, amongst the countries in the region with the longest period of compulsory schooling. With the amendment to the National Education Law in 2014, it is established that compulsory schooling amounts to 14 years of education: from 4 years old to completion of secondary level at 18 years old. School enrolment levels are high, with 99% attendance at primary school level and 76% attendance at secondary school. Primary school completion levels are also high at 92%, helping to ensure Argentinian children’s right to education (UNICEF, 2016; UNICEF, n.d.).
There is, however, still limited access to education for many children, whilst drop-out and repetition rates are high at secondary school level. Due to a national reduction in education spending, poorer children in Argentina have reportedly been affected by reduced access to schooling. For example, indigenous children, displaced children and those from children from marginalised urban and rural areas have their access to education disproportionately hampered (International Library of Congress 2020).
Right to non-discrimination
Many children’s right to non-discrimination is under serious threat in Argentina. Discrimination against indigenous peoples and forcibly displaced people continues to be a serious problem, whilst issues of racism, xenophobia and sexism often prevent many children’s rights from being fully respected. Amnesty International has reported that although the Argentinian Constitution recognises indigenous communities’ right to their ancestral lands and natural resources, the majority of indigenous communities still lack legal recognition of their territorial rights.
“Thirteen years after it was approved, the Territorial Emergency Law (N°26.160) had still not been fully implemented.”– Amnesty International, 2019
The law suspended evictions of indigenous peoples from their land pending a survey of all indigenous territories, however, by the end of 2019 a survey had only been initiated in 38% of indigenous communities. In the province of Jujuy, projects for potential lithium extraction were initiated on the lands of indigenous peoples without securing the free, prior and informed consent of affected indigenous communities. Indeed, in the Salinas Grandes Salt flats licences for lithium exploration were granted without proper consultation with affected indigenous communities who continued to demand information about the mining’s potential impacts on their water sources (Amnesty International, 2019).
In relation to forcibly displaced people, the government adopted a set of regressive measures, through regulations and practices, that restrict the rights of migrants and facilitate discrimination and xenophobia. Despite having been deemed unconstitutional and widely criticised by human rights mechanisms, Executive Order 70/2017 modified the Migration Act. As a result of this, migrants were increasingly deported without first being afforded them procedural guarantees and in violation of migrants’ rights to family unity and the best interest of the child. Indeed, Vanessa Gómez Cueva, a Peruvian mother of three, was deported from Argentina with her two-year-old child and forced to leave her other two children behind. Only after seven months outside of the country did she receive permission to return (Amnesty International, 2019).
On a positive note, in 2010 Argentina became the first Latin American country to decriminalise same-sex marriage. The Civil Marriage Law allows same-sex couples to enter civil marriages and affords them the same marital protections as different-sex couples. More than 20,000 same-sex couples have married in the country since the law’s introduction. Furthermore, Argentina passed a Gender Identity Law in 2012, enshrining the respect of self-identification and allowing anybody to change their gender and name in their identity card and birth certificate through a simple administrative procedure. This went some way towards protecting transgender people’s rights and children’s right to identity, and in 2020 President Alberto Fernández issued a decree establishing that at least one percent of employees in the federal government should be transgender people (Human Rights Watch 2021).
Since 1990, there has been a significant decrease in infant mortality in Argentina, including neonatal and post-neonatal mortality, which has gone a long way to fulfilling children’s right to life. The Argentinian provinces of Corrientes, Formosa, La Rioja, Tucumán, Chaco, Salta, San Juan, San Luis and Santiago del Estero have infant mortality rates which are above the national average, and more than 50% of deaths could be prevented with adequate clinical or surgical treatment. In Argentina, the mortality rate in adolescents aged 10 to 19 is 5.4 deaths per 10,000 adolescents, with 60% of adolescent deaths being due to external causes, amongst which traffic accidents (associated with risky behaviours such as the consumption of alcohol and other substances), suicides and assaults stand out (UNICEF, 2016).
Argentina has universal implicit health coverage provided by the public health system. Between 2001 and 2010, health insurance coverage increased throughout the national territory. However, in some provinces less than 40% of those under 18 years of age have coverage (Chaco, Formosa, Santiago del Estero), while in others the coverage exceeds 80% (Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego). The variation derives from the high degree of decentralisation of the public sector and the notorious development gaps between the provinces in relation to proximity to care centres and institutional capacity (UNICEF, 2016).
There is also significant protection for newborn’s right to health; UNICEF report that 100% of births in Argentina are attended by a skilled health professional and that almost all pregnant women have at least four appointments with a healthcare specialist before giving birth. Nonetheless, adolescent pregnancies are not uncommon (UNICEF, n.d.).
Risk factors → Country-specific challenges
Although recent years have seen consistent economic growth as well as diminished poverty and unemployment rates in Argentina, poverty remains a widespread problem with child poverty affecting the majority of children who live in the nation, and presenting a serious threat to the fulfilment of their rights. In Argentina, 7% of the population lives on less than US$1 a day (International Library of Congress, 2020). UNICEF estimates that Covid-19 will increase Argentina’s poor children by over 7 million, with 400,000 children predicted to fall into extreme poverty, meaning their basic food needs will not be covered.
By the end of 2020 the organisation reported that 59% of children in Argentina would be living in poverty, including over 2 million children in extreme poverty, whilst emphasising that “the differences between child poverty and extreme child poverty […] are particularly marked when taking into account the employment situation of the parents, education level, and immigration status”, demonstrating the important intersection of child poverty with other questions of marginalisation and inequality (UNICEF Argentina, 2020).
Gender and reproductive rights
In December 2020, Argentina became the largest country in South America to decriminalise abortion completely during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and, after that period, to allow termination of pregnancies in specific circumstances. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch reported that doctors and local health authorities often impose arbitrary and unlawful barriers to women and girls seeking abortions under the exceptions allowed by law. These include when their life or health is at risk or because they have been victims of rape (Human Rights Watch, 2021). Due to the law’s recent adoption the long-term effects of this landmark legislative change remain to be seen.
Despite a 2009 law detailing comprehensive measures to prevent and prosecute violence against women, The killing of women and girls with impunity in Argentina remains a serious concern. In 2019 alone, the National Registry of Femicides reported 268 femicides (the murder of women based on their gender) but only 7 convictions. During the Covid-19 lockdown, reports of domestic and sexual violence to a government hotline increased by 24% between April and June compared to the same period the previous year (Human Rights Watch, 2021).
Argentina has ratified all the international instruments related to child labour and exploitation, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and the Inter-American Convention on International Trafficking of Minors. Argentina also ratified ILO Convention concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, as well as the ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.
Despite such legislative progress, child labour has increased in Argentina, in large part due to the economic situation and the prevalence of child poverty. A growing number of children under 14 years of age are subject to economic exploitation and fall into child labour. Child labour is a particularly serious problem in rural areas of the country. It is also reported that there is a lack of data and information available on the scale of the nation’s child labour problem (International Library of Congress 2020).
Child sexual exploitation
Child prostitution is increasing in Argentina, particularly in large cities. Although the National Plan of Action to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children has been in place since 2000, coordinated policies and programs on this issue have yet to be fully funded and have not effectively stemmed the rise of child sexual exploitation. Sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography are criminalised. Whilst Argentina’s Criminal Code criminalises the prostitution of minors of 18 years of age or younger, it only sanctions those who “promote or facilitate” prostitution, and fails to penalise the client who exploits and assaults the minor.
The provisions penalising child pornography are insufficient and fail to comply with international legal standards, according to the International Library of Congress. Possession, import, export, sale, offer of, or virtual distribution of child pornographic material is not penalised under the national legal framework (International Library of Congress 2020).
Written by Josephine Thum
Last updated on 1 April 2021
 This article by no means purports to give a full or representative account of children’s rights in Argentina, which are vast, complex and constantly changing. The article aims to highlight principal challenges to child rights in Argentina and is not representative of the country’s rights history, innovations or achievements.