Josefina, 34, volunteers to stop violence against women and girls in her community in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) of Nicaragua. Home to indigenous Miskito people and Afro-descendent groups, the region is plagued by social and economic problems.
“We have many problems such as abandoned kids, young people abusing drugs and alcohol, and no jobs,” says Josefina.
Girls’ rights violated
Girls are often the worst affected by the problems in the region and receive little support. “I want to protect girls from becoming victims of sexual violence and child marriage. So many get pregnant when they are still so little,” says Josefina.
To girls, I say, you don’t need a boyfriend. You need to study!
Many adolescent girls in the region have been forced into marriages with much older men as their families, struggling to make ends meet, receive money in return. Girls that escape forced marriage are often coerced into sex.
As a result, 1 in 3 girls between 15 and 19 in RACCN is already a mother or pregnant with their first child.
Invisibility increases girls’ vulnerability
Plan International’s ‘Counting the Invisible’ report highlights that governments will not end the abuse facing millions of girls, including those in Josefina’s community, without better statistics on their lives.
Currently no statistics show how many indigenous girls drop out of school due to early marriage, pregnancy or sexual violence. These girls are invisible to their government and even more vulnerable as a result.
In response to the abuse facing girls in RACCN, Plan International is working with children, parents, caregivers and community leaders to change attitudes and create a safe environment for girls.
Women lead change
Josefina and other volunteers have been trained by Plan International on girls’ rights and are raising awareness in their communities. Having been a teenage mother herself, Josefina has become a girls’ rights champion in her community.
“I tell families if they sell girls to older men they will go to jail. It is a violation of their rights. I also tell boys that if they force girls to have sex with them, they will go to jail. To girls, I say, you don’t need a boyfriend. You need to study! With education they can make their own decisions and make their lives better.”
Sodi, 16, says, “I dropped out of school to earn a living and soon became pregnant. If I had realised how difficult it would be and how much I would miss out on, I would have never become a teen mother. Inspired by Josefina, I have decided to return to school.”
While progress is being made, Josefina is determined to continue protecting girls in her community. “At least child marriages don’t happen here anymore. We now have to tackle teenage pregnancy,” she says.