They go to school with fear, live at home with fear, speak quietly and with fear, eat with fear when there is not enough for the rest of the family, walk down the street with fear, do not go out at night for fear if they go out alone during the day they they are afraid of being robbed, if they go to a party night they are afraid of coming back raped, they are afraid of getting pregnant, they are afraid when they become pregnant, they are afraid that they don’t want to be mothers and they can’t say it, they are afraid when they look for work in their communities, not knowing if they will fall into a network of sexual exploitation in the capital, they are afraid to go to the river to wash because many times they are abused there, they are afraid of their brother and father’s friends those who drink at home are afraid that someone will walk between their sheets one night. They are afraid.
In Guatemala, most girls and adolescents have every reason to be afraid. 91.09% of medical examinations in 2022 for sexual offenses were of girls and adolescents. And sex education only exists on the networks or television because many of the authorities who practice double standards believe that comprehensive sex education should not be offered in educational institutions because it would “encourage debauchery”.
70.2% of cases reported to the Ministry of Public Affairs (MP) between 2018 and April 2022 corresponded to the crime of human trafficking against adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17. Of all the registered cases of human trafficking, 79% of the victims under the age of 18 are girls and minor women, according to the complaints registered in the last five years by the deputy. The second most affected group are girls between the ages of 8 and 12, with 19% of cases. And yet, much of society continues to normalize violence against girls’ bodies, with the excuse that it’s always been that way.
And no, that’s not normal. And no, the answer cannot be that they do not go out, that they are always accompanied, that they are locked up and their lives are hindered so that something does not happen to them. And no, an adult raping a 9-year-old girl is not her fault. And no, it is not their fault that they were born in a country without sufficient education, health care, security, food or tenderness. It is the environment that must protect and it is the adults who must ensure the girls’ rights and their well-being.
Between January and May 2022 alone, 58 girls and adolescents died violently; this gives a monthly average of 11.6 violent deaths of girls and adolescents. And I won’t go on with this new poetry that statistics have become, but everywhere we look, girls in this country have it very difficult. To be born a girl in Guatemala is for many an act of heroism from day one.
Daniela, a young woman from Switzerland, visited a place of shelter and protection for girls and adolescents who have survived sexual violence and human trafficking in Guatemala. They asked her how the girls in her country live, how they go to school, if they go out often, if they are happy, what they like to eat, if they have learned to draw and dance, among many other things. She told them that they were going to school alone and that no girl could be left without studying, not one. Everyone turned to look, their eyes widened, and they said almost in chorus, “I want to live there.”
We ask why. Some of the answers are in the figures from the previous paragraphs, but many add the blows received, illiteracy, never knew the sea, never went to the cinema or played football, did not eat the three meals, must be sold from the age of 9 , to support their little brothers, non-Spanish speakers like others, sexually transmitted diseases, the shame of carrying guilt that is not theirs, and not being able to return to their communities.
Girls have rights. We were reminded. To life, to family, to tenderness, to roof, to health and education. They have a right to their bodies. They have a right to be girls. That’s what they told us.