“I demand that the government respects our rights as women. We are girls and we have rights, and so long as they do not respect these rights, we will continue to fight to demand them.” - Clara, youth rights promoter, aged 18.
Rape and sexual abuse are widespread in Nicaragua, and most victims are young and female. More than two thirds of all rapes reported between 1998 and 2008 were committed against girls under 17.
Information is hard to find for those at risk or suffering sexual violence. Many girls are trapped in abusive situations with no clear way out. The stigma associated with sexual crimes means that it is often the survivor – not the abuser – who is blamed.
For girls who are able to speak out, the struggle for justice can be traumatic. Failures and lack of resources in the justice system mean cases often collapse and attackers walk free. Survivors of rape or sexual abuse whose cases get as far as prosecution often abandon the case because the legal process is too expensive or too traumatic.
Young survivors of rape or sexual abuse get little or no government support to rebuild their lives. The lucky ones find psychological and legal help at independent women’s and girls’ centres or refuges, but this is not enough to guarantee assistance to all girls who need it.
Some young survivors face the extra trauma of finding they have been made pregnant by the rapist. For girls who choose to carry the pregnancy to term, there is little or no state support to rebuild the hopes and dreams they had for the future. For others, the idea of giving birth to a child as the result of rape is unbearable. However, a 2008 law criminalizing all forms of abortion in all circumstances – even for child rape victims - has left them with little choice.
The government has an obligation to prevent sexual violence against girls in Nicaragua; to protect young survivors; and to guarantee they receive justice and reparation.
Image: Connie, a young survivor of sexual violence between the ages of nine and 14, draws her hopes for the future. © Amnesty International 2010