Last edited: December 2005
Summary and Analysis
Chile ratified the CRC in 1990, granting it the status of ordinary law. Its omnibus law on children, Ley de Menores, 16.618 (Law of Minors) was the controlling law for abuse and neglect as well as criminal proceedings involving children for over 70 years. While the law has not been fully repealed, in the past two years there have been significant additions to legislation on children in Chile, making the provisions of the Law of Minors less relevant. Specifically, Law 19.968, Law creating Family Courts, was promulgated into law on August 8, 2004 and Law of Juvenile Criminal Responsibility in November of 2005.
The new Law Creating Family Courts gives family courts the ability in Article 12 Section 8 to hear abuse cases from the Law of Minors. Article 16 describes the best interest of the child, coupled with the right of children and adolescents to be heard as the guiding principles that the family judge should always consider first in the resolution of any matter. Article 19 states that children further have a right to representation from a lawyer who will act as a guardian ad litem whenever the interests of the child potentially differ from the interests of their legal guardian. Article 41 anticipates oral proceedings and stipulates that children are normally to be interviewed only by the judge, such that any other parties must direct their questions through the judge. The judge can authorize direct examination of the child or adolescent by other parties based on the child's maturity if the judge believes doing so will not affect the child. The judge may use technical advisors for advice regarding the suitable court appearance and declaration of the child or adolescent (Article 5b), and may listen to expert witnesses regarding what is in the best interest of the child. Children have the right to initiate a protective proceeding under Article 70.
The state entity for the National Service for Minors (SENAME) represents many minors in abuse and neglect cases and represents the best interest of those minors. Our local contact from SENAME reports that the new Family Courts which were to become fully functional October 2005 have been swamped to the point of near-collapse due to a combination of factors. Namely, political campaigning for the January 2006 Presidential elections raised expectations about these courts resulting in more publicity and lawsuits, the new family courts are also able to grant divorce, which was hitherto impossible in Chile, and the new procedures require two preliminary hearings and thus more court time than the old system. Additionally, the family courts pull in cases that were previously assigned to a few different courts.
Chile's juvenile justice law has evolved over the past century, beginning as a concept of how to deal with children only insofar as they interact with adults and the adult criminal justice system. Under this system, children were dealt with in clauses of the penal and civil code as exceptions to the rules on how to handle adults. Children under seven had no criminal liability, children under ten were presumptively not liable, children over 16 were presumed to have liability, and children between 16 and 10 were presumed not liable but the judge made the ultimate decision. The key issue was whether the juvenile delinquent could discern that their actions were wrong, though judges received no guidelines to define this term. At the same time that discernment was central in this punitive setting, parents had almost total control over their children in other contexts. They were entitled to punish their children moderately, but additionally could have their children arrested for up to one month, upon no proof other than the demand of the parents.
The laws changed with the introduction of the Ley de Menores in 1927 because children were seen as needing special protections which simple immunity from criminal responsibility couldn't take care of. Additionally, the public became more concerned with the causes behind crimes. Thus, the new law of the child was created to include special courts and judges for children and an array of protective measures that courts could take as well as special detention centers for children. This 1927 law largely remained in effect until 2004 and 2005.
The requirement of having the child's voice heard in proceedings was added to the Ley de Menores in 1961, as one amongst a number of modifications to Ley de Menores that were caused by Ley 14.550. Since 1961, there have only been four major revisions to the law, the last of which was in a few weeks ago (fall of 2005). The more recent revisions have created a new set of courts to deal with family law, including abuse and neglect cases, and revised the penal code for adolescents.
Sources of Law (In Order of Authority)
Convención sobre los Derechos del Niños, ratificado por Chile el 14 de Agosto de 1990.
1. Los Estados Partes garantizarán al niño que esté en condiciones de formarse un juicio propio el derecho de expresar su opinión libremente en todos los asuntos que afectan al niño, teniéndose debidamente en cuenta las opiniones del niño, en función de la edad y madurez del niño.
2. Con tal fin, se dará en particular al niño oportunidad de ser escuchado, en todo procedimiento judicial o administrativo que afecte al niño, ya sea directamente o por medio de un representante o de un órgano apropiado, en consonancia con las normas de procedimiento de la ley nacional.
Ley Num. 19.968 Crea Los Tribulanes de Familia
Artículo 5. Funciones. La función de los profesionales del consejo técnico será la de asesorar, individual o colectivamente, a los jueces en el análisis y mejor comprensión de los asuntos sometidos a su conocimiento, en el ámbito de su especialidad.
En particular, tendrán las siguidentes atribuciones:...
b) Asesorar al juez para la adecuada comparacencia y declaración del niño, nina o adolescente....
Artículo 16. Interés superior del niño, niña o adolescente y derecho a ser oído. Esta ley tiene por objetivo garantizar a todos los niños, niñas y adolescentes que se encuentren en el territorio nacional, el ejercicio y goce pleno y efectivo de sus derechos y garantías.
El interés superior del niño, niña o adolescente y su derecho a ser oído, son principios rectores que el juez de la familia debe tener siempre como consideración principal en la resolución del asunto sometido a su conocimiento.
Artículo 19. Representación. En todos los asuntos de competencia de los juzgados de familia en que aparezcan involucrados intereses de niños, niñas, adolescents, o incapaces, el juez deberá velar porque éstos se encuentren debidamente representados.
El juez designará a un abogado perteneciente a la respectiva Corporación de Asistencia Judicial o a cualquier institución pública o privada que se dedique a la defensa promoción o protección de sus derechos, en los casos en que carezcan de representante legal o cuando, por motivos fundados, el juez estime que sus intereses son independientes o contradictorios con los de aquél a quien corresponda legalmente de su representación.
La persona así designada será el curador ad litem del niño, niña, adolescente o incapaz, por el solo ministerio de la ley, y su representación se extenderá a todas las actuaciones del juicio.
De la falta de designación del representante de que trata este artículo, podrán reclamar las instituciones mencionadas en el inciso segundo o cualquier persona que tenga interés en ello.
Artículo 41. Testigos niños, niñas o adolescentes. El testigo niño, niña o adolescente sólo será interrogado por el juez, debiendo las partes dirigir las preguntas por su intermedio. Excepcionalmente, el juez podrá autorizar el interrogatorio directo del niño, niña o adolescente, cuando por su grado de madurez se estime que ello no afectará su persona.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Chile on August 14, 1990.
1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
Law No. 19.968 Creating Family Courts
Article 5. Functions. The function of the professionals of the technical advice will be that of adviser, individually or collectively, to the judges in the analysis and better understanding of the matters submitted for their knowledge, in the area of their specialty.
In particular they will have the following attributions:
b) Advisor to the judge about the appropriate appearance and declaration of the boy, girl, or adolescent….
Article 16. The best interest of the child or adolescent and the right to be heard. This law has as its objective the guaranteeing to all children and adolescents that are found in the national territory, the exercise and full and effective use of their rights and guarantees.
The best interest of the boy, girl, or adolescent and their right to be heard are the guiding principles that the family judge should always have as his or her principle consideration in the resolution of the matter submitted for his or her ruling.
Article 19. Representation. In all matters under the jurisdiction of the family courts, in which it appears that the interests of children, adolescents, or incapacitated individual are involved, the judge should watch to ensure that these individuals are properly represented.
The judge will appoint a lawyer belonging to the respective Corporation of Judicial Aid or to any public or private institution that is dedicated to the defense, promotion or protection of its rights, in the cases in which [the children] lack legal representative or when, with reason, the judge believes that their interests are independent or contradictory with those who legally represent them. The person thus appointed will be the curator ad litem of the boy, girl, adolescent or incapable, by the alone department of the law, and its representation will extend to all the actions of the judgment.
Regarding the lack of designation of the representative described in this article, the institutions mentioned in the second paragraph or any person who has an interest may serve.
Article 41. Child or adolescent witnesses. The child or adolescent witness will only be interrogated by the judge, requiring the parties to direct their questions through the judge. In exceptional cases, the judge will be able to authorize the direct interrogation of the child or adolescent, when the judge believes that the degree of maturity of the child or adolescent is such that direct interrogation will not affect the child or adolescent.
Local Contact Information
SENAME Servicio Nacional de Menores
National Service for Minors
Additional Resources and Links
National Library of Congress of Chile, Online Portal with the complete text of laws in pdf form. (Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional)
Centro de Investigaciones Jurídicas de la Facultad de Derecho de la
Universidad Diego Portales (CIJ)
email@example.com / teléfonos: (56-2) 6971089 -
6726796 6726828 / http://www.derecho.udp.cl
This university has an international program specializing in the protection of children in collaboration with UNICEF (http://www.unicef.cl) and the Centro de Estudios de la Justica de las Américas (http://www.cejamericas.org)
One of the projects developed by the CIJ was the Database of InterAmerican Jurisprudence about the Rights of Children. The project covers Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and the United States, and has many laws and court cases through 2003. It is available at:
Risolidaria (An online network promoting networking on social issues, including the rights of children)
Their portal to the the children's page can be found at:
Organizations That Provide Social or Legal Help to Abused Children:
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
 Ratified through Decreto Supremo Nº 830 of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, D. O. el 27 de Septiembre de 1990.
 Law No. 16.618, el 3 de Febrero 1967, D.O. el 8 de Marzo de 1967. Selected provisions that were in force until 2004 can be viewed here in English and Spanish, available here, and also as .pdf Document, and also as Word Document. A more complete version of the law, accurate through early 2004 can be found in Spanish here, and also as .pdf Document, and also as Word Document.
 Germán A. Ulriksen Ramos, Derecho de Menores: Procedimientos y Formularios Tomo 1 y 2, Editorial Jurídica La Ley (2002).
 Decreto Supremo Nº 830, el 14 de Agosto de 1990, Diario Oficial el 27 de septiembre de 1990.
 All translations in this document are unofficial and conducted at the Yale Law School.
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