San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Children’s Rights Group Rises from the Ashes

FOUR defenders of children’s rightshave picked up the baton where the oncenearly omnipresent defender of children,Costa Rica’s former Casa Alianza chapter,let it fall.They are four women, former CasaAlianza employees, who have shoulderedthe burden of that chapter’s more than1,000 (and counting) formal accusationsagainst alleged violators of children’srights in Costa Rica.In a nod to its previous incarnation, thephoenix organization preserves part of itsname, calling itself Alianza Por TusDerechos (Covenant for Your Rights).SMOTHERED by scandal, CasaAlianza closed its doors in Costa Rica lastyear after its director of 15 years, theBritish-born Bruce Harris, admitted hepaid for sex from a 19-year-old Honduranman.In his contentious, larger-than-lifecareer, Harris had opened the Costa Ricanoffice and championed the protection ofchildren at Casa Alianza’s children’s sheltersthroughout Central America (TT, Sept.24, 2004).The Costa Rican office became theregional headquarters of the operation, andwhen it closed late last year, it left behindreams of unfinished business.IN the wake of that departure, four formerCasa Alianza employees officiallyannounced the opening of the new organizationlast month, founded on their initiative,using their funds and operating undertheir unpaid labor while looking for sponsorshipfrom international organizations.“We are going to take charge of all thecomplaints and accusations citizens hadbrought to our attention at Casa Alianza,and we will lend our legal services free ofcharge to minors who are victims ofcrime,” Rocío Rodríguez, executive directorof the new organization, said in a statement.“We will focus all our efforts on preventionand on the unbiased and opportuneaid of those who need it. This is a commitmentthat we want to take on, that we areready to carry to its conclusion, because weare convinced that the human rights ofminors are our priority,” Rodríguez said.NOW entering its second month, theorganization has already received dozensof new alerts from citizens concernedabout possible abuses of children. The volunteersput these whistle-blowers and conscientiousneighbors in touch with theChief Prosecutor’s Office to file officialreports, and offer free legal advice to thoseinvolved.Rodríguez told The Tico Times theyare establishing connections with mentalhealth professionals who would volunteerto treat underage victims of abuse.The new organization also maintainsties with Casa Alianza’s offices in the restof Central America and its headquarters,the U.S.-based Covenant House, sharinginformation on children’s issues, butreceiving no economic aid.Already prancing to the lead of thecharges against authorities accused ofbeing soft on crime, Rodríguez said thesentence levied in February against SinaíMonge, a convicted pimp for underageprostitutes, is “regrettable.” Judges sentencedMonge to eight years in prison afterprosecutors asked for 16 (TT, Feb. 25).Rodríguez said Casa Alianza had madethree formal accusations against Monge’sbrothel in the three years leading to herarrest.Documents on cases such as Monge’sand others are available to the public in theAlianza por Tus Derechos’ documentationcenter in Santa Marta de Montes de Oca,just east of San José.AMONG the new organization’s firstprojects are courses in children’s rights forparents and professionals, as well as forchildren ages 7-18 as part of the curriculumin schools.As they did in Casa Alianza, internationalvolunteers fortify the work ofAlianza por Tus Derechos. Three help now,two Costa Ricans and one North American,and more are needed, Rodríguez said.Those who want to call attention toabuses or who are interested in volunteeringcan reach the Alianza at 524-1327,524-2329, fax 524-1109, or e-mail

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