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Macalester College

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development


The rights of all children are guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations in 1989. This Convention guaranteed children the right not only to sufficient food, a place to live, and security, but also to a high quality education and political inclusion. Chile ratified the Convention in 1990, and it became the legal base for the work done by Chile’s child protection system, el Servicio Nacional del Menor (SENAME). The system administers sanctions for youth who have broken the law and intervenes when children have been victims of a violation of their human rights.1 Like all public institutions in Chile, it works with children who are part of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche population. The relationship between the Mapuche people and the Chilean State is historically fraught. Mapuches work to recuperate their culture, assert their autonomy, and reclaim their ancestral territory against the fiercely neoliberal Chilean government, sometimes by violent means. The Chilean State in turn perpetuates direct and structural violence against the Mapuche people through police action, systemic oppression, and discrimination.2

SENAME, which is a system meant to protect Mapuche children, plays a role in the violence against Mapuche families. It does not recognize the police violence against Mapuche families and only began incorporating an intercultural perspective in the region with the greatest Mapuche population in the past few years. Now, SENAME is collapsing: the system’s structure has led to the deaths of hundreds of Chilean children.3 Chile has the opportunity to rebuild and recommit to children’s rights, in particular those of indigenous children. In this paper, I draw on interviews with Mapuche families regarding how they build resilience in their children in part through teaching Mapuche traditions. After speaking with Mapuche families, experts on Mapuche culture, and child welfare professionals from SENAME and UNICEF, I conclude that in order for SENAME to better acknowledge the needs of Mapuche families, it must focus on keeping Mapuche children with their families and train its professionals so that in their interventions with Mapuche families they utilize an intercultural methodology which respects, recognizes, and incorporates Mapuche culture.


Community-Based Research | Disability and Equity in Education | Education | Family, Life Course, and Society | Indigenous Education | Inequality and Stratification | Latin American Studies | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance | Sociology


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