Seven out of ten children and adolescents in Ecuador say that they suffer some kind of violence at home if they misbehave. Three out of every ten young and adolescent girls attending school say they are mistreated by their teacher. Plan International Ecuador is committed to ensuring that all children under the age of 18 are protected from all forms of violence, particularly empowering children themselves to know their rights and thus be able to stand up to abuse. We work closely with communities to organise a multitude of events and workshops, enabling parents, teachers, care givers and children to access training on child protection and gender issues.
We have created Community Protection Mechanisms, an initiative involving the whole community. For two years, Carina Balón has been dividing her time between teaching the 2nd year of primary school, being a mother, and doing voluntary work as a community protection counsellor.
For Carina, words like good treatment, stigma, gender and equality did not exist in her vocabulary until she went to a workshop organised by Plan International to train new community protection counsellors.
I was brought up with mistreatment and, without realizing it, I was repeating this pattern with my own family, in particular with my son and daughter
Carina does her daily work as a community protection counsellor in the rural parish of Simón Bolívar in Santa Elena, a province on the Ecuadorian coast washed by the waters of the Pacific.
As Carina’s friend, Carmela, another staunch community protection counsellor, says: “Ten years ago, male chauvinism was so prevalent that women were afraid to denounce or even talk about the physical, sexual or psychological violence they suffered and children had to witness serious incidents of violence in their homes.”
She says that this remains a substantial problem, despite the progress that has been made. It is what prompted her to join the group of community protection counsellors five years ago.
We have also implemented “Community Protection Mechanisms”. The initiative strives to promote and support work in the communities to protect people from violence, in particular children and adolescents. Currently, 116 communities in Ecuador have their own protection mechanisms and 728 volunteers are involved in the system.
As in Santa Elena, networks or groups have been formed and work in coordination to prevent and respond to violence by creating opportunities for participation and the advocacy of rights.
These bodies would not be possible without volunteers like Carina and, what is more, would not been seen as legitimate within the community, as it is the local inhabitants themselves who unanimously choose the protection counsellors. The volunteers are trained by Plan International so that they know how to deal with each case appropriately.
“Our work is clear,” says Carina. “There are cases in which we just mediate and support, others that are dealt with in meetings held by the Community Protection Body to find a solution, and others that we have to refer to public authorities so that they can intervene.”
Asked about the most difficult times they have faced in this work, both Carina and Carmelo agree that they have had to deal with a lot of very hard and unfair situations. Sometimes it is tough to work in communities where certain cultural practices are widespread, but the counsellors’ training and work have proved useful.
Maricela, 16, says that, after becoming pregnant, she asked Carina to help her.
“My parents wanted to send me to live with my boyfriend at his parents’ house but I wanted to stay at school until I finished. She spoke to my parents and we all talked for about four hours. Luckily they agreed that I should stay at home and graduate from school. We said that we would talk about it again after the baby is born but for me it’s important to get my school graduation certificate first.”
The changes she can help make are what keep Carina going.
“I have often thought of giving it up, but since I started I’ve seen how a lot of women and children feel protected because we’re here to lend them a hand.”