By Carolina Escobar Sarti ‐ National Director/ La Alianza ‐ Guatemala
When I have in front of me a 10-years old girl, showing an obvious 5-6 months pregnancy, I feel how reality beats up on my face. This situation fires up many conflicting emotions, and the strongest are hopelessness, frustration, and an enormous outrage. If I add up her story to the one of hundreds of other stories of girls and adolescents, pregnant or not, who have been sexually abused and who allowed us to usher them in their lives, I realize that in the Guatemalan society in which we live, something wrong is being done.
The girls and adolescents we take care of, never asked to be victims, although they are, and also we do not want them to continue to be victims for the rest of their lives. But each day, when we look at them, we got to the conclusion that it is easier for them to be abused where a poor education, more poverty, less justice, more violence, less healthcare, and a chauvinist culture exist. It is not a rule, but most of them come from this kind of backgrounds. Therefore, if Guatemala does not change these essential issues, they will have a hard work to make it through in life, additionally more cases like them and the rest of the society as well.
If we want to know the way a society is, it takes only to see how girls and boys live. The figures of malnutrition, abandonment, lack of education and health care, domestic violence and impunity, among others, are accountability of the various forms of sustained violence against childhood and adolescence in the country, and they place us in a context where it is obvious that we, the adults, have failed. There will be no feasible development if we do not face as a block, State and society, the creation of ideal conditions that allow girls, boys, and adolescents to live with dignity and to comprehensively develop.
Theoretically, the only thing these girls and adolescents have is their bodies. But in fact, not even it belongs to them; from a very young age they are abused by the men living around them, in many cases prostituted and when they become pregnant they breed and care for, the best way they can, equally miserable lives just as theirs. There is no simple answer, since there are no simple answers to complex questions.
For all that, I am very upset for people to feel pity towards the girls and adolescents that we shelter, since what they need most is dignity, unconditional love, justice, structure, and absolute respect. That is the vision that we, as a team in La Alianza, have. Many times they woke up confused, sad, without an understanding of what is happening to them. But what they need less is pity, trials to blame and victimize them again, or a paternalistic view that does not respect their individual stories and the time in which they live. They need much more than food, a home, and a bed to sleep; they need a comprehensive ushering which includes psychosocial work, legal mentoring, formal and vocational education, to keep their lives in order, and all the love and respect we can.
When there is a society that tolerates sexual violence of girls, either because few speak out of this issue or since many see it as natural, is that there is a belief system that supports something like that. And beliefs have a strong pressure in our lives. In spite of the fact that our law provides that any adult who sexually abuses another under 14 years old commits a crime, only in the year 2013, 60 thousand girls and adolescents under 18 become pregnant. 89% of them were victims of relatives or men close in their environment; and out of that 89%, 30% were their own parents. Facing this, we mean that raping a girl is not normal, it is an aberration that marks her forever. When, moreover, she becomes pregnant, her life is immediately interrupted and there are many things that she ceases to do: play, imagine, dance, study, grow up, and dream. “Imposed motherhood” is an absurdity, which affects not only those who live it, but the rest of society, since it prevents the full development of a portion of the new generations and defines a pattern that tends to repeat itself if we do nothing about it.
On the other hand, most of the girls and adolescents who become pregnant as a result of a rape, almost always reject the babies growing in their bodies. We must work with it as well, due to the fact that it is not easy to a great extent. How do rejected girls and boys grow up? What kind of adults will result from these girls and boys who were rejected since conception? Which society grows from imposed maternity?
Additionally, other inconveniences can be added if sexual abuse is kept since the time they are at home and then this is translated into prostitution of girls and adolescents. In Guatemala , nowadays this is extremely complex since it is mixed, most of the times, including racketeering, drug trafficking, and a weak Government, that does not grant its people the citizenship status and does not protect them since birth as well. People trafficking, for example, is often directly related to the offense that has historically been settled down by a fair part of the Guatemalan society: sexual violence. And both offenses are performed within an environment of silence, corruption, and impunity.
“The nightingale refuses to nest inside the cage, for slavery not to be the fate of its breeding,” stated Khalil Gibran ever. When I see that little girl pregnant, I wonder if we are to continue struggling to live in this cage where captivity is tolerated, settled down, and is regarded as “natural”. I think, also that you never give as much as when you give hope, so facing the huge debt that, in this sense, we have runned up with the childhood and adolescence of Guatemala, there will be the need to enter into civilization-filled agreements of the size of the peace and justice we yearn, which will be much more profitable than crime. In fact, I can’t wait to open the cage door for the birds to leave, the birds that have been imprisoned and to close it in such way that it will never be able to nest slavery there.