In Nicaragua, rape and sexual abuse are widespread, and the majority of the victims are young and female. More than two thirds of all rapes reported between 1998 and 2008 were committed against girls under the age of 17, and nearly half of victims were under age 14.
Though there is overwhelming evidence of widespread sexual abuse in the country, and five UN expert committees have called on the government to address the issue of violence against women and girls, the Nicaraguan government is still failing to treat this human rights emergency with the urgency that it deserves.
Last week, Amnesty International published a report on sexual violence against girls in Nicaragua. The report highlights that information on preventing and responding to abuse for those at risk or suffering from sexual violence is difficult, if not impossible to find, leaving many girls trapped in abusive situations with no clear escape. Further, the stigma associated with sexual crimes means that it’s often the survivor – not the abuser – who is blamed, and young survivors of rape or sexual abuse get little to no government support to rebuild their lives.
The report also notes that, for girls who find the strength to speak out against the violence they have suffered, the struggle for justice can be traumatic. Failures and a lack of resources in the justice system mean that cases often collapse and attackers go free. Though the Nicaraguan Supreme Court published a protocol of conduct for crimes involving domestic violence and sexual assault, the protocols are not always adequately applied by state officials, and funding for justice officials’ work on sexual abuse cases is insufficient.
Some young survivors face the additional trauma of discovering that they have been made pregnant by their rapist. For those girls who wish 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, as Amnesty documented last year, a 2008 law criminalizing all forms of abortion in all circumstances – even for child rape victims – has left them with no other legal choice.
The failure of government officials to respond to the human rights crisis of sexual violence against girls is unacceptable. The government of Nicaragua has a duty to fulfill its obligations to prevent sexual violence against girls in Nicaragua, to protect young survivors, and to guarantee that survivors receive justice and reparation. We must demand that they fulfill this duty.
November 25 to December 10 is the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence – so the time is now to take action against gender violence around the world. You can help protect the rights of women and girls to be free from violence by demanding that the Nicaraguan government protect girls from sexual violence, insisting that the Indonesian government protect the reproductive and labor rights of female domestic workers in Indonesia, and by urging your legislators to pass the International Violence Against Women Act and ratify CEDAW.