Justice for Indigenous Girls Sexually Assaulted in Peru

Justice for Indigenous Girls Sexually Assaulted in Peru

Dormitory of indigenous girls from the Awajún people, in shelters where they live and receive bilingual intercultural education, in the province of Condorcanqui, state of Amazonas, northeastern Peru. Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Pioc

By Mariela Jara (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – The main fear of women leaders who have denounced the systematic rape of girls from the Awajún indigenous people announced by the authorities is that it will all be for nothing.

“Our reports started in 2010 and the government has not acted to eradicate rape against girls. We fear that once again, impunity reigns and the government is acting very strategically in this regard,” Rosemary Pioc, president of the Awajún/Wampis Umukai Yawi Women’s Council (Comuawuy), in the municipality of Condorcanqui, told IPS.

In June, women leaders from Comuawuy denounced the rape of 532 girls between 2010 and 2024 in schools in Condorcanqui, one of the seven provinces of the Amazonas department. These schools provide bilingual education to children and adolescents aged 5 to 17.

Girls as young as five have died in these schools and shelters, infected with HIV/AIDS by their attackers.

This is aggravated sexual violence against indigenous girls living in poverty and vulnerability, while sexual assaults against minors are on the rise in this South American country of 33 million inhabitants.

“I have taken in abused and bloodied girls and listened to their despair when their parents paid no attention when they were told about the rapes”: Rosemary Pioc.

According to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, Peru recorded 30,000 reports of sexual violence against children under 17 in 2023.

However, many cases do not reach public authorities due to various economic, social and administrative obstacles, especially when it comes to rural populations or indigenous communities.

Peru has 55 indigenous peoples, with a population of four million inhabitants, living in the national territory since time immemorial, according to the database of the Ministry of Culture.

Of these indigenous peoples, four live in the Andean regions and 51 in the Amazonian territories, including the Awajún people, who live in the departments of Amazonas, San Martín, Loreto, Ucayali and Cajamarca. However, 96.4% of the indigenous population is made up of Andean peoples, mainly Quechua, and only 3.6% are Amazonian peoples.

Although national and international law guarantees their rights and identity, in practice this is not the case for indigenous girls, while poverty and inequalities in access to education, health and food persist.

According to official figures from 2024, 30% of the national population lives in poverty. If ethnicity is taken into account, this figure rises to 35% among those who learned a mother tongue as a child.

Extreme poverty reaches 5.7%, a national average that rises to 10.5% in Amazonas, a department of more than 433,000 inhabitants, where indigenous families live mainly from agriculture, hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits.

Rosemary Pioc, President of the Awajún/Wampis Umukai Yawi Women’s Council. Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Pioc

“I picked up girls covered in blood.”

Bilingual intercultural education is a state policy in Peru.

Thus, student residences were created to promote access to education for indigenous children and adolescents living in remote communities, in the case of the province of Condorcanqui, on the banks of the Cenepa, Nieva and Santiago rivers.

The province has 18 residences, where girls live all year round, receive meals and go to school.

“Since they cannot return home every day because they are hours or days away, because of the river, the teacher or facilitator takes advantage of this situation and mistreats them instead of guaranteeing their care,” said Pioc, herself a member of the Awajún people.

More than 500 rapes have been recorded in the last 14 years in this scenario.

The official explained that these shelters are approved by the Ministry of Education, even though they survive in very poor conditions and are left to their own devices.

Pioc has been reporting sexual violence against his students for years, but the Local Educational Management Unit (Ugel), the decentralized education body of the Amazonas regional government, has not taken action to prosecute and fire the abusive teachers.

Another dormitory in one of the bilingual intercultural schools where parents of the Awajún people, who live in remote areas along the banks of Peru’s Amazon rivers, send their daughters, ages 5 to 17. Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Pioc

“We are in the land of the upside down, because in 2017, a colleague and I were denounced for denouncing and defending girls,” she said.

Pioc, originally from Condorcanqui, knows her reality well. When she was a teacher, she experienced terrible things. “I met girls who were abused, covered in blood, and I heard their despair when their parents paid no attention when they told them about the rapes,” she says.

She gave up teaching to devote herself entirely to Comuawuy, to continue to make denunciations and prevent impunity.

“A principal touched two students. The parents tried hard to report him to Ugel, but nothing was done. He continued to honor his contract and then raped his five-year-old niece. ‘Report me if you want. Nothing will happen to me,’ he warned me. And that’s what happened. I was the one who was prosecuted,” she complains.

A month ago, the complaints of indigenous women were widely heard when the Minister of Education, Morgan Quero, and the head of Women’s Affairs, Teresa Hernández, justified the facts by attributing them to indigenous cultural practices.

These statements have been roundly rejected by various sectors, considering them racist and evasive of the government’s responsibility to punish and prevent sexual violence.

Pioc denounced the ministers’ statements and expressed disbelief at the announcements of sanctions and other measures ordered by the Ministry of Education. “They hold technical roundtables, but only when the rapists are in prison and the girls’ health is taken care of will we say that they have fulfilled their obligations,” she said.

Both ministers later apologised and said they had been misunderstood, but they remain in their posts, despite widespread calls for their dismissal.

Genoveva Gómez, head of the Office of the Ombudsman of Amazonas. Credit: Office of the Ombudsman of Amazonas

Victims suffer for life

Genoveva Gómez, a lawyer who heads the Office of the Ombudsman of Amazonas, says that her sector denounced in 2017, 2018 and 2019 the deprivation of student residences and failures in the investigation of cases of sexual violence at the administrative level and in the prosecutor’s office.

To correct this situation, her office recommended “increasing the budget, strengthening the Permanent Commission for Administrative Procedures, which is responsible for investigating teachers, and referring cases prescribed at the administrative level to the public prosecutor’s office, because rape is an imprescriptible crime,” she explained.

Gómez spoke to IPS as she traveled from Chachapoyas, also in the department of Amazonas and headquarters of her organization, to Condorcanqui, to participate in a meeting of the Coordinating Body for the Prevention, Attention and Punishment of Cases of Violence against Women and Family Members, convened by the mayor of that municipality.

The lawyer argued that the girls from Awajún who were sexually assaulted will suffer for life and that it is urgent to implement mechanisms that guarantee justice and emotional support for them and their families.

“As a society, we must be clear that these acts violate fundamental rights and must not go unnoticed,” she stressed.

Gómez said that Condorcanqui will have a Gesell Chamber by August at the latest, an essential tool for the prosecution’s investigation of cases of sexual violence against minors, in order to avoid re-victimization through a single interview. The closest one is in the city of Bagua Grande, a seven-hour drive away.

The chamber consists of two rooms separated by a one-way glass window. In one, child and adolescent victims of rape and other sexual assaults talk about the violence with psychologists and provide information relevant to the case. In the other, family members, lawyers and prosecutors observe without being seen by the victim.

Then the psychologist in charge asks them questions about the aspects requested by the observers. Everything is recorded and serves as valid evidence for the trial, and the victim does not have to testify in court.

Gómez also said that access to justice has many obstacles and that it is up to the government to eliminate them so as not to send a message of impunity to the population, especially to the girls of Awajún.

She also welcomed the presence of representatives from the education sector in the area, but considered that it should not be reactive work over a set period, but rather sustained and planned work that includes prevention.

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