MEXICO - VIOLENCE AGAINST GIRLS -
RAMPANT - UNDERREPORTED
STATISTICAL INVISIBILITY - RAPE
& EARLY PREGNANCIES - FEMICIDE +
By Daniela Pastrana*
Sep 21, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) - Amalia is an indigenous Maya girl from a rural
community in southern Quintana Roo, on Mexico's Caribbean coast. She is 11 years
old, and in August became the youngest mother in the country when she gave
birth to a baby girl, 51 cm long and just under three kg.
Amalia was raped when she was 10, allegedly by her stepfather. She did not have the option of terminating the pregnancy because by the time it emerged that she was pregnant it was too late for a legal abortion.
Her case highlights the government's failures in dealing with violence against girls, a phenomenon that is overlooked due to the many other types of violence plaguing Mexico, such as the epidemic of drug-related murders, and the human rights violations attributed to the military and police.
Amalia "represents an accumulation of social exclusions: she is female, a child, indigenous and poor," Juan Martín Pérez, executive director of the Network for Children's Rights in Mexico, which brings together more than 50 pro-child organisations, told TerraViva.
"It took more than 20 years for me to admit what had happened. It's something that you never forgive; you just learn to live with it," a 35-year-old professional from Mexico City told TerraViva. She was sexually abused by an uncle when she was Amalia's age.
In this Latin American country of 108 million people, there are 18.4 million boys and 17.9 million girls under 18. Violence against children occurs in one-third of households, despite the many institutions across the country entrusted with protecting their well-being.
A UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) study ranked Mexico second for mistreatment of children, after Portugal, among the 33 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The mortality rate attributed to this phenomenon is 30 deaths for every million minors.
According to UNICEF, a large portion of this physical, sexual and psychological violence and neglect remains hidden, and is sometimes socially accepted.
And while this crime is underreported, there is even less information about the differences in mistreatment based on gender. "There is a statistical invisibility that prevents us from getting a clear picture of the problem," said Pérez.
Several recent studies provide isolated data for an incomplete puzzle. For example, the latest National Survey on Health and Nutrition reports six pregnancies for every 1,000 girls ages 12 to 15, and 101 per 1,000 for ages 16 to 17.
In Quintana Roo, the state's secretary of health, Juan Carlos Azueta, said that in 2009 5,500 adolescent pregnancies were reported, 16 percent of which were the result of rape -- a proportion in line with the national average.
"I love my daughter, but I've never known how to deal with her. She exasperates me, and I'm often unfair to her," admitted Gloria, a mother of three girls, whose eldest was born after she was raped at the age of 15 by a married man.
"There is something in her that reminds me of how I got pregnant, and nobody taught me how to be a mother or how to deal with this memory inside," said the abusive mother, who lives in Atizapán, on the outskirts of Mexico City.
"La infancia cuenta" (Childhood Counts/2009), a web-based monitoring tool and publication by the Network for Children's Rights in Mexico dedicated to girls, states "there are specific groups of females who are marginalised from the educational system," such as adolescent mothers or disabled or indigenous girls and adolescents.
According to Mexico's National Institute on Statistics and Geography, 180,500 adolescent mothers, ages 12 to 18, have not completed their basic education. Girls have higher school attendance rates than boys until age 16, when the balance starts to tip, in part due to early pregnancy.
"At 15, I ran away from home with the man who is now the father of my children, but things went even worse for me," Citatli, now 45 and a grandmother, told TerraViva. She lives in a low-income neighbourhood in the eastern part of the Mexico City metropolitan area.
She had two children by the time she was 17, "and the younger one was born prematurely after I was beaten," she said. "I have always been surrounded by violence. From my mother, my brothers, my first husband, and now from my children." Her only hope is that her five grandchildren "don't turn out like that."
In Mexico, violent acts against girls, adolescents and women are based on a social construction that assumes males are superior, several sources consulted by TerraViva agreed.
"We've made some limited progress, with a federal law (against gender violence) and local laws in all states, but we haven't seen fundamental changes," said Axela Romero, director of Integral Health for Women. "A culture in which masculine is put above feminine prevails."
Giovanni, a nine-year-old girl who lives in the violent Mexico City neighbourhood of Penitenciaria, knows all about that. She has what is traditionally a boy's name because when her mother was about to give birth to her firstborn son, she lost the pregnancy due to "a fright" when the father got involved in a fight. So the name went to the little girl, when she was born.
"I hate violence, and I hate it even more when the men drink," Giovanni told TerraViva.
Years of gruesome unsolved murders of women -- known as "femicides" -- put Ciudad Juárez, on Mexico's northern border, on the global map. At least 800 women have been tortured and murdered in the last 16 years, according to incomplete official data.
Meanwhile, in some Mexican states, the laws are tougher on women who undergo abortions than on the rapists who impregnated them.
According to government surveys, more than 60 percent of male adolescents believe it is solely the responsibility of the woman to take precautions against pregnancy, and at least one-fifth of students have witnessed incidents at their schools, off in a corner, where one or more boys inappropriately touched a girl without her consent.
But those incidents, like other forms of aggression against girls, are likewise abandoned in a corner.
*This story was originally published
by IPS TerraViva with the support of UNIFEM and the Dutch MDG3 Fund.