The North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) of Nicaragua has some of the highest levels of sexual violence in the country, including femicide.
In many communities in RACCN – one of two self-governing regions in Nicaragua – it is often people who children feel they can trust the most, including family members that commit the violent acts. In addition, the informal local justice system means that perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.
Get our newsletter “Sexual violence is often justified as a ‘cultural problem’, making it appear normal and natural,” says Shira Miguel Downs, Director of Nidia White, a local partner organisation of Plan International Nicaragua. “Yet, how can you call this a cultural issue? Violence against girls is not right. It’s that simple.”
“My organisation together with Plan International Nicaragua, is working hard to protect young girls so they stay safe. It’s not easy though. We don’t have formal legal structures in RACCN. Instead, we have whistas who are local judges that form part of a traditional community justice system,” says Downs.
Whistas often use a traditional form of justice known as Tala Mana – a practice where people who have committed acts of sexual violence against children compensate for their crime by giving money, objects or animals to the victim’s family. Early child marriage can also be granted as a payment.
Violence against girls is not right. It’s that simple
Seeking justice officially is difficult due to the remote locations of communities, the expense of travel to report crimes, problems with translating the indigenous language Miskito and the length of time taken for convictions to be made.
Plan International’s Girl Power Project is working at multiple levels across RACCN, focusing on girls’ rights and educating the community on the importance of child protection.
“We tell villagers that we don’t want them to lose their culture, but we want to educate them. We can’t just go into a community and say, ‘Violence is bad.’ We need to work with communities and show them why it shouldn’t be taking place.”
“We run workshops where we change their way of thinking so they can see why children and women deserve to be protected. We don’t impose a new way of thinking, we help them construct their own ideas and see that their culture and their extended family should protect children. After all, no culture can overrule human rights,” explains Downs.
Raylina, 34, has attended workshops run by Plan International. She says, “I used to be aggressive and use violence against my children. I wasn’t a good person, but I didn’t know any different. When Plan International Nicaragua and its partner organisation came to our community, I realised that violence wasn’t the answer.
“Workshops were held on how to prevent domestic and sexual violence, as well as drug prevention. During the sessions, I learnt how violence could be measured. I am now part of the neighbourhood prevention committee on domestic violence, so if I hear instances of violence taking place, I visit families and give advice. Cases are not as common as in the past, but they still take place,” adds Raylina.