EL ALTO, Bolivia – Rebuilding the lives of a child victim of sexual exploitation, people trafficking or one who has lived on the street is often a process taking years, from removing them from the risky environment to starting a program of psychological counseling through concluding the educational process.
Leaving the street and breaking the structure of abuse within or outside the family can be a road filled with potholes and reversals, where the victims run the risk of colliding with lack of understanding and rejection by loved ones.
In remarks to EFE, the head of the Munasim Kullakita Foundation, Ricardo Giavarini, said that one of the main causes of children entering into a cycle of sexual aggression is “experiencing a lot of intrafamily violence.”
“(They believe that) the street is a safer place than the family,” Giavarini said.
He said that route seems to be an easy escape because “the idea of remaking oneself within a group of friends” prevails, but when basic needs have to be met, the body – in the case of women – is the most effective way to earn money.
In El Alto, Bolivia’s second-largest city with about 1 million residents, the prostitution rates for girls and teens have grown considerably, according to figures collected by the foundation and the Educo non-governmental organization, which collaborates with it.
Child prostitution is carried out on the streets, in places with lots of commercial traffic and under the gaze of everyone, and it is nourished by a structure linking pimps, discotheques, lodging and low-cost inhalable drug consumption.
Munasim Kullakita focuses on “repairing the damage” among these young people, a strategy oriented toward rebuilding the lives of victims of sexual violence by supporting them educationally, psychologically and legally.
A central element is so-called “empowerment,” which consists of providing the at-risk population with the necessary skills to face life independently.
One of the pillars of the effort is the socio-community focus, which some years ago replaced a more legalistic approach and which has resulted in a reduction in “relapses.”
Foundation assistant director Ariel Ramirez stressed to EFE the importance of dealing with these minors “as people who have rights,” with the aim of preventing their marginalization or exclusion.
He added that it is important to “foster their (emotional and material) independence” so that “they develop strategies” to deal with difficult scenarios, and one of the places where young girls and teens can acquire that help is at the Hogar de Acogida, a shelter where about 20 girls ages 8-18 live.
There, although EFE noted that the girls laugh, joke around and chat like normal kids, the staff is alert for any signs of depression so that this can be dealt with when it first appears.
Although rebuilding lives damaged by sexual abuse can be a slow task, the committed staff is patient and the program is having positive results.