Violence, crime still plague Latin America | Heraldo Muñoz

31 Jan 2013

police More than 1,000 judges, clerks, prosecutors and police officers in Haiti received training in technical areas of criminal investigations, sex crimes or judicial inspection. Photo: UNDP Haiti

Latin America now enjoys stronger, better integrated economies and more solid democracies than it did 20 years ago. The region is more prosperous and less poor. But epidemic crime and violence threaten to undermine recent gains and demand urgent, innovative public policy solutions.

From 2000-2010, homicide rates across the region rose by 11 percent while declining in most regions worldwide. In countries with data for 1980-90, robberies have almost tripled over the last 25 years. One in 10 robberies involves violence, usually with firearms. On a typical day in Latin America, 460 people are victims of sexual violence, usually women.

A recent poll found people in Latin America and the Caribbean least likely in the world to feel safe in their communities, with slightly less than half of residents reporting in 2011 that they feel unsafe walking alone at night where they live. That poses a fundamental problem in furthering development. Why open a business only to have it robbed by armed gunmen? Why send a daughter to school if she risks assault along the way?

Why such insecurity in a region whose economic and governance indices are moving in the right direction? UNDP’s forthcoming Human Development Report for Latin America will focus on this issue. Among its findings so far:

        · Countries in the region still suffer from insufficient capacity in justice and security, with an alarming number
          of cases that go unpunished and low levels of trust among citizens in the legal system

         · Regional growth is occurring more in quantitative than qualitative terms:
           The labor market remains fragile, with many jobless youth and rapid urbanization.

         · Community ties have eroded, while insecurity reduces the number of venues to promote cooperation,
           trust, and citizen participation. This gives rise in some instances to initiatives verging on vigilantism.

         · Threats to security seriously hinder the capabilities and freedoms of Latin Americans,
            with citizens’ daily lives filled with violence and crime.

All of these highlight the complexity of citizen insecurity, which will be further explored in UN-led consultations in Panama this month as part of global discussions on conflict and fragility in development.

Solutions must be multidimensional and involve all stakeholders, including governments and the international community. The people of Latin America have come far, and they deserve better.

Talk to us: How can we make our communities in Latin America and the Caribbean feel more secure?

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