Maria Eugenia Linares

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 1996
Colectivo Mexicano de Apoyo a la Niñez
This description of Maria Eugenia Linares's work was prepared when Maria Eugenia Linares was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996 .


María Eugenia Linares is building a new culture of respect for children in Mexico by leveraging Mexico's obligations under international treaties to respect children's rights.

The New Idea

María Eugenia Linares, also known as Maru, has created a project called "Fostering a Culture of Respect towards Children's Rights" that engages civil society in an ongoing conversation about the rights of children. By teaching adults how to respect the physical and psychological integrity of children, educating children about their own rights, encouraging the government to create pro-children policies, and helping child and youth-related organizations to become more efficient and transparent, Maru is cajoling Mexican society to assume responsibility for monitoring and ensuring the rights of its youngest members. Within the global human rights movement, Maru is widely respected as the national leader for children's rights in Mexico. Much of the research that has brought Mexican children's realities to light has been done thanks to her initiative. Moreover, she understands how to use the obligations of international treaties and legal norms to organize activist constituencies and hold governments responsible. She is uniquely qualified to bring about a new culture of respect for children in Mexico.

The Strategy

Maru has developed a four-pronged strategy through which to promote and protect children's rights in Mexico and beyond.

First, by reaching out to the mass media at both the local and national level, Maru is bringing the issue of children's rights to public attention and fostering a nationwide current of respect towards these rights. Through appearances on radio and television, as well as through press articles and publications, Maru and her colleagues are educating parents, teachers, and children alike about children's rights. In this vein, Maru uses local gatherings and popular events as a forum for disseminating information about the state of children in Mexico and for initiating discussions about how to respect children's rights. At such events, children of all ages, and their parents, are invited to participate in games and workshops which introduce the concept of children's rights and offer simple ideas of how to respect those rights on a daily basis.

Second, in order to ensure that children are being provided with the best services available and that their rights are being duly protected, Maru works to strengthen the institutional capabilities of existing children-related organizations, by helping to professionalize their standards, coordinate their efforts, and better articulate their goals and ambitions.

Third, Maru has begun to generate and disseminate information about the state of children and children's rights in Mexico. She has identified the areas in which information is lacking, organized research initiatives, and begun to systematize the knowledge already generated by civil organizations. Although such research has been crucial in defining the problem, she now seeks to shift the emphasis among civic organizations away from simply denouncing anti-child actions and towards offering concrete proposals for public policies. Together with her colleagues at COMEXANI, Maru is helping put together a proposal, to be presented to both the general public and the government, which aims to integrate concerns about the rights of children into the larger national development agenda.

Finally, in order to promote children's rights at a national and even international level, Maru is drawing on the resources and commitment of those organizations in which she is already an active participant. In particular, she is working in collaboration with COMEXANI (which she helped found), Convergencia (an umbrella organization which incorporates many civic groups), Espacio Civil por la Paz (Civil Space for Peace), and Red de Redes (Network of Networks). In order to develop a broad network in support of children's rights, Maru is drawing on her leadership roles at the Advisory Committee of Enlace, Comunicación y Capacitación; the recently created VAMOS Foundation, a capacity-building arm for organizations that work with vulnerable populations, and of which Maru is a founder; and the Section of Children's Rights of the Mexican Association for the United Nations.

The Person

Upon graduating from the Faculty of Psychology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Maru began practicing as a psychologist. After she became a mother and began to witness the intricacies and the challenges of parenthood firsthand, she became especially interested in the field of child development and made it her professional specialty.

In her work, Maru has dealt mainly with marginal families, providing parents and communities with practical elements to improve their child-rearing and educational practices. She attributes her commitment to protecting the rights of children to a sense of justice instilled in her at an early age by her father, and to her involvement in the feminist movement.

Through her work with UNICEF, Maru was able to meet and share ideas with fellow child development experts and children's rights advocates throughout Latin America. Through these interactions, Maru was taught as she describes–to "think big," to broaden her ambitions and dreams for the future of children, and to form alliances through which to achieve those dreams. Moreover, through her work with social organizations, she has strengthened her belief in the importance of working together, while being afforded the opportunity to work directly with the people. Finally, through her work with COMEXANI, she has been able to combine local, grassroots work, with public policy.

Maru is now in her emotional and intellectual prime. She feels an intense need to extend her work into broader spaces and is very active in developing options to improve the lives of children everywhere.