Source: Annual Report 2014

The Peru strategy of the Bernard van Leer Foundation focuses on approximately 521,000 indigenous children aged between zero and eight living in rural areas, plus around 91,000 children of the same age range living in the urban slums of Iquitos. 49.3% of urbanites (9.6 million people) in Peru live with at least one of the deprivations that constitute living in a ‘slum’ - overcrowding, precarious house construction, no access to water, no access to sanitary services or no land tenure. 

We chose Iquitos because the percentage of urban dwellers with at least one deprivation is highest in the jungle region (74.5%), and Iquitos is the city with the largest slums in the region. The National Institute of Statists of Peru (INEI) estimated that, in 2012, 91,041 children 0 to 8 lived in urban slums in Iquitos without access to drinking water. The overall theme is to ensure all children in Peru are healthy, protected and able to take advantage of Peru's progress. Our three goals in Peru are:

National increase in the percentage of indigenous, rural children under 3 with access to quality home visiting programmes that integrate birth registration, health, nutritional support and parent education 

As of 2012, only 4.5% of all children under 3 (2% in rural areas) had access to early learning programmes, a figure that falls to 2.6% in rural areas. The few programmes that exist are typically center-based and urban-biased. Reaching rural children in their homes can connect them to a range of services and to help parents support their children’s learning from birth. 

This is most critical for the estimated 189,355 indigenous children under 3, of whom more than 85% live in rural areas. Nearly 55% of those children live in poverty; in regions where more than a quarter of the population is indigenous, chronic malnutrition rates average 31.9%. While nine in ten indigenous children have their births registered by age three, only 56% are registered in the first year, indicating a lack of early connection with state services.

A reduction in violence in families with young children living in urban slums in the city of Iquitos and in indigenous, rural communities

An estimated 37.2% of women who have had partners have experienced intimate partner violence, and this is more likely to occur in homes with young children: WHO research found that 15% to 28% experienced physical violence during pregnancy and UNICEF estimates that 37% of mothers with children under 5 experience physical violence. This implies an estimated 1.75 million children aged under 8 live in homes where their mothers are beaten. Furthermore, small scale studies have found that up to 96% of Peruvian children experience physical punishment in the home, with the most common forms being ear pulling, slapping, and hitting with a belt.

We chose to target our efforts on urban slums and indigenous rural communities because they are the most under-served by public works and they live in conditions that are correlated with family violence in a wide variety of literature on the subject.

Shifting attitudes to family violence among police officers in Peru 

Picture 50 police officers in a room, encouraging each other to breathe in … and out. In … and out.

It’s not a sight you’d commonly associate with any police force, let alone in the tough, macho culture common in the cities of Huancavelica and Huancayo in Peru. It’s a community where a third of police officers feel that advocates of equal gender rights want to disempower men and over half say they would not intervene if a couple was fighting in public, according to Foundation-funded research by Instituto de Promoción de la Mujer, Infancia y Familia (Institute for the Advancement of Women, Children and Family or IPROMIF). These norms are found in both male and female police officers.

Previous attempts to train police officers on women’s and children’s rights, or on dealing with family violence, had focused on tactical procedures and protocols, rather than on attitudes and behaviours. IPROMIF realised that this meant that police officers were being asked to follow norms they didn’t share. 

IPROMIF developed a programme to change those norms by helping police officers to better understand the rights and risks associated with domestic violence – not as police officers, but as fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, and friends. The idea was that if police officers could learn to respect the rights of their own family members and to better control their own emotions, they would be in a better position to absorb tactics and training to prevent and protect children from intrafamily violence. 

IPROMIF launched La Familia Policial Libre de Violencia (Police Families Free of Violence) in late 2013 with a series of group workshops and individual counselling for 110 police families. The fact that IPROMIF’s president, Ernesto Quintana Noriega, is a highly respected former high-ranking police officer helped to overcome initial resistance and increase the programme’s acceptance among regional commanders.

The workshops were run by Dr Inelda Serpa, a psychologist who had worked with police families for many years. ‘We created a space where the police officers could feel heard and respected and talk freely about their difficulties. We also trained them in simple techniques to help them manage their emotions,’ says Dr Serpa. ‘The most impactful technique so far has been a simple one: breathing. It’s the most basic function, but we explain that breathing is what connects our internal world to the external world.’

Acceptance of the programme within the force has been helped by the unexpected enthusiasm of a group of young police officers, one of whom – Yuselin Ramos – has a regular slot on local community radio. The Bernard van Leer Foundation’s Senior Programme Officer Leonardo Yánez notes that it has become popular to attend the sessions because ‘the lady on the radio is talking about them all the time.’

Instituto de Promoción de la Mujer, Infancia y Familia - PeruA year on, IPROMIF reports that half of the police officers attending the workshops so far indicate that they understand the harm that authoritarian parenting can cause and are learning other ways to parent. Yuselin Ramos confirms that she has seen changes in how her colleagues manage their emotions and their relationships with family. ‘People are making more time for their families. We hear stories among us, where police say that they better understand the psychology behind our actions and how violence affects us all.’

‘I’ll tell you a story. I work near a school. One day a woman dropped off her son and the boy threw his bag on the street. Frustrated, she came to talk with me about the challenges she was experiencing with her son. I suggested that she should try talking with him instead of punishing him. A few weeks later, the woman told me they had talked and their relationship was improving. She was really grateful to me. If I hadn’t attended the workshops, I wouldn’t have had the tools to deal with the situation that day.’

Yuselin pauses for a moment. ‘It would be great to replicate this programme around the world. Imagine if all police officers were prepared psychologically and emotionally to deal with [domestic violence]. The impact would be really big.’

A reduction in the prevalence of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections among young children growing up in unhealthy physical environments in urban slums in the city of Iquitos

Peru spends around 3% of its GDP on treating illnesses caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene, and those most affected are children growing up in urban slums. In Belen, a slum area of Iquitos where 16,000 children under 8 are living, rates of acute diarrhea and respiratory infection among three year olds are 34% and 36%, while chronic malnutrition is 36%. More than half of homes (67.4%) have no sanitation and 77.3% have no potable water; 94.9% cook with carbon, wood, kerosene or dung and without a chimney, and 27.2% of homes have only one room. Given such statistics, it is not surprising that rates of acute diarrhoea and respiratory infection among three year olds are 29.8% and 24.8% respectively, and chronic malnutrition affects 27.2%. 
In all, nearly half of Peru’s urban population (9.6 million people) live with at least one of the deprivations that constitute living in a ‘slum’ – overcrowding, precarious house construction, no access to water, no access to sanitary services or no land tenure – and one in five live with two or more of those deprivations. This affects all aspects of children’s lives, not only health: it limits opportunities to play, creates stress on families, and drives violence.

Creating a citizens’ movement for young children in Peru

In Peru, the national budget for early childhood has more than doubled since 2008. Even more impressively, the early childhood budgets in the poor regions of Huancavelica and Loreto – where the Foundation focuses its work – are now 23 and 11 times higher respectively than in 2008. These dramatic increases in public investment for young children are in part due to the work of the social enterprise Salgalú.

In 2008, early childhood development was not a priority in Peru. Budgets had stagnated for decades, programmes were fragmented and didn’t do enough to meet the needs of young children. However, the economy was growing and the country was starting to look ahead: the national Government announced that it recognised investment in children as a key factor in poverty eradication and sustainable development.

But how to ensure that these words would translate into action? Salvador Herencia, head of the Communications and Partnership Unit at UNICEF's Office of Research, was leaving UNICEF to move back to his home country of Peru, and the Bernard van Leer Foundation asked him to develop a strategy. The Foundation helped Salvador start the social enterprise Salgalú Comunicación & Responsabilidad Social to organise a national mobilisation for early childhood and to provide citizens and government officials with the data and knowledge they need to take action.

‘People knew early childhood was important. But it wasn’t necessarily a social and political priority,’ says Salvador. ‘The first challenge for us was how to translate this commitment into a real priority [by mobilising] not only professionals specialised in children’s issues, but also other key opinion leaders and private sector representatives. The second challenge was how to [create a] permanent citizen movement that could observe and demand compliance with this commitment.’ Salgalú began by providing technical support to Grupo Impulsor Inversión en la Infancia (Steering Group for Investment in Children), a high-profile citizens’ movement of around 100 influential figures from academic, business, scientific and cultural circles. Grupo Impulsor is led by Father Gaston Garatea, a Roman Catholic priest who had served as a commissioner for the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined political abuses committed during the 1980s and 1990s, in addition to serving as the first president of Peru’s Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

‘Father Gaston has real moral authority that cuts across political parties,’ says Leonardo Yánez, the Foundation’s senior Programme Officer for Latin America. ‘He brings unity, he’s good at asking questions, he’s very humble, everyone likes him.’

Salgalú built an early childhood communications platform for Grupo Impulsor. This platform includes Salgalú TV, a multimedia news channel with a daily audience of around 3000 that has become a required stop for politicians to make campaign announcements on early childhood; and the Infobarómetro, an online source for national, regional, provincial and district statistics to help citizens and officials in monitoring government commitments to young children.

The Citizens’ Pact for Early Childhood, a 10-point document developed by Grupo Impulsor that calls on policymakers and citizens to make early childhood a priority at all political levels, has been an important guide for coordinating action.

For example, the coastal region of Piura has taken up the cause of early childhood through the Citizens’ Pact for Early Childhood as a result of Grupo Impulsor’s campaigning. In 2010, Javier Atkins was elected Governor of Piura after he signed the Citizens’ Pact. As part of his commitment to the pact, he set up SIREPI (Regional System for Early Childhood) to coordinate policy and local public services – so far, the only regionwide management system for any public policy issue in Peru.

Familia FelizOne of the cornerstones of SIREPI programming is Familia Feliz (Happy Family), a home visiting programme based on a model promoted by the Foundation and designed and delivered with support from Plan International’s Peru country office.

The Familia Feliz team also drew on Salgalú’s online training materials. As Salvador says, ‘We don’t just want to make announcements and run campaigns. We want to provide information to help governments take action. The mayors need to know what kind of programmes to run and what resources they have access to.

Salgalú continues to invest in online training courses for children’s programme managers, teachers, mayors and other municipal officials, with the support of the Foundation and other national partners such as the Ministry of Health and UNICEF. The courses reached over 30,000 people in 2014.

Says Josefina Alvarado, coordinator of Familia Feliz: ‘Our community health promoters visit close to 4500 families once a week. It was a big challenge at first to get families to open their doors. But now, if the promoters miss a visit, the families will call and ask what happened. Through Familia Feliz we have also been able to strengthen connections among the 23 municipalities where we work; this has resulted in increased investment in education and health, infrastructure, materials and promoters’ salaries.’

Highlights from 2014

  • The national early childhood programme Cuna Más, championed by Foundation partners, invested over EUR 68 million in young children in 2014.
  • Thanks to partner GRADE, the National Institute of Statistics disclosed genderand age-disaggregated data about domestic violence.  

Programme strategy

Download a summary of our Peru strategy, outlining how we are approaching the goals summarised on this page, and a shorter two-page handout in English or Spanish.


Do you have comments on our goals in Peru? Please contact our Programme Officer for Peru, Leonardo Yánez:

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