GUATEMALA CITY – Teenage pregnancies are on the rise in Guatemala, giving the country the highest adolescent fertility rate in Latin America. In 2011, according to the Reproductive Health Observatory, 49,000 mothers aged 10 to 19 became pregnant, and last year that number increased to 61,000. Of those, 35 were 10-year-old girls.
Experts say poverty, lack of education and sexual abuse are to blame for the increasing pregnancies, which have forced the government to launch a campaign reiterating that it is illegal to have sex with someone younger than 14 years of age.
The country’s Human Rights Office says that thousands of adolescent children are sexually abused by relatives every year, and 89 percent of rapists are family members. Of those, 30 percent are parents.
A powerful new campaign by La Alianza, an international shelter organization, aims to raise global awareness of the sexual abuse plaguing young girls in Guatemala.
“Guatemala has a machismo culture, highly tolerant to sexual violence against girls and women, which normalizes – and even justifies in several cases – this type of violence. It’s a taboo not discussed by our society,” says Carolina Escobar, director of La Alianza Guatemala. “Our main objective is to raise awareness and open this issue to discussion on a national and international level, and make it a true national priority.”
Last month, La Alianza created an adoption campaign on the photo-sharing website Pinterest that centers on images of abandoned toys being placed up for adoption. Each toy has a unique story, profiling a true account of a young girl who has been a victim of abuse, and representing the lost childhood of each girl who has been displaced.
Although the identities of the victims have been changed to maintain their anonymity, the images featured are all of real girls.
“Most reactions have been of shock, surprise and indignation that this kind of abuse can still be happening in the 21st century,” Escobar says.
La Alianza originally began working in Guatemala in 2010 with victims of human trafficking, but soon realized that many of the girls who were referred to them had been sexually abused, and a high number of their aggressors were family members.
The organization hopes that the campaign, created by LatinWorks, will encourage people to adopt a doll and donate, which will enable them to continue providing the girls with education, health, vocational, psychological and legal support.
Watch the campaign here.