Justice, not impunity, for sexually abused indigenous girls in Peru — Global Issues

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Dormitory of indigenous girls of the Awajún people, in shelters where they live and receive intercultural bilingual education, in the province of Condorcanqui, state of Amazonas, northeastern Peru. Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Pioc
Dormitory of indigenous girls of the Awajún people, in shelters where they live and receive intercultural bilingual education, in the province of Condorcanqui, state of Amazonas, northeastern Peru. Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Pioc
  • by Mariela Jara (Lima)
  • Inter Press Service

“Our reports began in 2010 and the government has not taken action to eradicate rape of girls. We fear that impunity will return, and the government is very strategic in this,” Rosemary Pioc, president of the Awajún/Wampis Umukai Yawi (Comuawuy) Women’s Council, from the municipality of Condorcanqui, told IPS.

In June, female leaders from Comuawuy reported the rape of 532 girls between 2010 and 2024 in schools in Condorcanqui, one of the seven provinces of the Amazonas department. These schools provide bilingual education to children and teenagers between the ages of five and 17.

Girls as young as five years old have died in these schools and shelters after being infected with HIV/AIDS by their aggressors.

This involves serious sexual violence against indigenous girls living in poverty and vulnerability, while sexual aggression against minors is increasing in this South American country of 33 million inhabitants.

According to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable PopulationsIn 2023, Peru recorded 30,000 reports of sexual violence against children under the age of 17.

However, many cases do not reach government authorities due to economic, social and administrative barriers, especially when they involve rural populations or indigenous communities.

According to the Peruvian government, there are 55 indigenous peoples, with a population of four million, who have lived in the national territory since time immemorial. Ministry of Culturedatabase.

Four of these indigenous peoples live in Andean regions and 51 in Amazonian regions, including the Awajún people, who live in the departments of Amazonas, San Martín, Loreto, Ucayali and Cajamarca. However, 96.4% of the indigenous population are Andean peoples, mainly Quechua, and only 3.6% are Amazonian peoples.

Although their rights and identity are guaranteed by national and international law, in practice this is not the case for indigenous girls. Furthermore, poverty and inequality in access to education, health care and food persist.

According to official figures from 2024, 30% of the national population lives in povertyWhen differentiating by ethnic self-identification, this rises to 35% among those who learned a mother tongue in childhood.

Extreme poverty stands at 5.7%, a national average that rises to 10.5% in Amazonas, a department of more than 433,000 inhabitants, where indigenous families live mainly from agriculture, hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits.

“I’ve picked up bloody girls.”

Bilingual intercultural education is a government policy in Peru.

For example, student residences were established to improve access to education for indigenous children and teenagers living in remote communities, such as in the province of Condorcanqui, on the banks of the Cenepa, Nieva and Santiago rivers.

The province has 18 residences, where the girls stay all year round, receive meals and go to school.

“Because they cannot go home every day because they have to travel for hours or days across the river, the teacher or supervisor takes advantage of this situation and abuses them instead of ensuring their care,” said Pioc, himself a member of the Awajún people.

In this scenario, more than 500 rapes have been documented over the past 14 years.

The leader explained that these shelters are licensed by the Ministry of Educationalthough they survive in very poor conditions and are left to their fate.

Pioc has been denouncing sexual violence against its students for years, but the Local Education Unit (Ugel), the decentralized education body of the Amazonas regional government, has taken no action to prosecute and dismiss the aggressive teachers.

“We live in a country where everything has been turned upside down, because in 2017 a colleague and I were charged for reporting and defending girls,” she said.

Pioc, born in Condorcanqui, knows her reality well. When she was a primary school teacher, she experienced terrible things. “I have picked up beaten, bloody girls and I have listened to their despair when their parents ignored the rapes,” she said.

She left teaching to devote herself fully to Comuawuy, to continue reporting and prevent impunity.

“A headmaster touched two students. Their parents reported him to the Ugel with great difficulty, but nothing happened. He continued with his contract and then raped his five-year-old niece. ‘Report it if you want. Nothing will happen to me,’ he warned me. And so it happened. I was prosecuted,” she complains.

A month ago, the stories of indigenous women received a lot of attention when the Minister of Education, Morgan Quero, and the head of Women’s Affairs, Teresa Hernández, justified the events by attributing them to indigenous cultural practices.

The statements were roundly rejected by various sectors, seen as racist and as an avoidance of the government’s responsibility to punish and prevent sexual violence.

Pioc criticized the ministers’ statements and expressed her disbelief at the announcements of sanctions and other measures ordered by the Education Bureau. “They organize technical roundtables, but only when the rapists are in prison and the girls’ health is taken care of, will we say that they have complied,” she said.

The two ministers later apologized and said they had been misunderstood, but they remain in their posts despite many calls for their dismissal.

Victims hurt for life

Genoveva Gómez, a lawyer at the head of the Amazonas Ombudsman’s Office, says her sector reported expropriations of student housing and deficiencies in the investigation of cases of sexual violence at the administrative level and in the Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

To correct this situation, her office has recommended “increasing the budget, strengthening the Standing Committee for Administrative Prosecution, which is responsible for investigating teachers, and that cases that have expired at the administrative level should be referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, because rape is a crime for which there is no statute of limitations,” she explained.

Gómez spoke to IPS during her trip from Chachapoyas, also in the Amazonas department and her organization’s headquarters, to Condorcanqui to participate in a meeting of the Coordination Body for the Prevention, Attention and Punishment of Cases of Violence against Women and Family Members, convened by the mayor of that municipality.

The lawyer argued that the Awajun girls who were sexually abused will suffer pain for the rest of their lives and that urgent measures must be taken to ensure justice and emotional support for them and their families.

“As a society, we must be aware that these acts constitute a violation of fundamental rights and must not go unnoticed,” she stressed.

Gómez said that by August, Condorcanqui will have a Gesell Chamber, a key tool for prosecutorial investigations in cases of sexual violence against minors to prevent revictimization through a single interrogation. The closest one was in the city of Bagua Grande, a seven-hour drive away.

The room consists of two rooms separated by a one-way viewing glass. In one room, children and teenagers who are victims of rape and other sexual assaults talk to psychologists about this violence and provide information relevant to the case. In the other room, family members, lawyers and prosecutors observe without the victim seeing them.

Then the psychologist in charge asks them about aspects asked by the observers. Everything is recorded and serves as valid evidence for the trial, and the victim does not have to testify in court.

Gómez also stated that access to justice faces many obstacles and that it is up to the government to remove these obstacles so that no signal of impunity is sent to the population, and especially to the Awajún girls.

She also welcomed the presence of representatives from the education sector in the area, but believed that this should not be reactive work for a certain period of time, but rather sustainable and planned work that also includes prevention.

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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