Bolivia has the highest rate of child sexual abuse in Latin America: One in three girls is sexually abused before age 18.
In July 2014, we began a partnership with Brisa de Angulo - a survivor of sexual abuse - and her organization, A Breeze of Hope, to address the alarming rates of child sexual abuse and incest in Bolivia and gaps in the law that allow it to continue.
“I started realizing I wasn’t the only one and that my perpetrator took a lot from me. He took my dreams, he took my childhood, but he wasn’t going to take my voice away.”
-Brisa de Angulo, Founder, A Breeze of Hope
Through Brisa’s own case, which is currently pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), we are specifically working to repeal a provision known as “estupro,” which imposes lesser penalties for perpetrators who rape 14- to 18-year-old adolescents. We are also pushing for broader legal reform to prevent sexual assault against girls, and to enact a law against incest. Through this case, we are working to set precedents that will protect children from abuse in Bolivia and across Latin America.
In 2016, Equality Now began additional support for A Breeze of Hope through our GENEROSITY of GIRLS Fund. Through family and community workshops, programs to build self-esteem and economic independence, promoting the importance of education and strengthening the girls’ peer groups, we are working to directly empower the girls.
We are also continuing to elevate the issue directly with the IACHR, which addresses human rights conditions and violations among the 35 Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS). In January 2017, we requested a Thematic Hearing before the Commission to present on the specific situation in Bolivia. Open to the public, these hearings allow civil society to bring serious human rights violations to the attention of the Commissioners and to hold national governments accountable to their human rights obligations. In March 2017, we were thrilled to learn that our request had been granted. With Breeze of Hope and the pro-bono support of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, on 18 March we brought the Government of Bolivia to the table to discuss the pervasive sexual violence against girls and to prompt action in Brisa’s case.
Equality Now, Centro Una Brisa de Esperanza (A Breeze of Hope) and the Human Rights Advocacy and Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School presented evidence of the pervasive nature of sexual violence of adolescent girls in Bolivia and highlighted the government’s obligations under regional and international human rights law. Capitalizing on Bolivia's participation, we made three concrete recommendations to help prevent, punish and eradicate sexual violence:
1) Legal Reform: amend the penal code so that Bolivia’s definition and punishment of rape aligns with regional and international human rights law, and that it repeals its estupro provision which is used by judges to give perpetrators of sexual violence against girls between the ages of 14 and 18 a lesser conviction
2) Capacity Building: educate and train professionals who work with survivors of sexual violence to avoid re-victimization
3) International Obligations: incorporate the UN Sustainable Development Goals and targets into national laws and policies
Bolivia's participation in the Thematic Hearing was encouraging and we will continue to work with the Commission and the government to see that it implements our recommendations to bring its laws on rape and sexual abuse into alignment with regional and international human rights standards.
Following our Thematic Hearing and years of advocacy to highlight Brisa’s case as emblematic of the ongoing epidemic of sexual abuse of adolescent girls in Bolivia, in April 2017 the IACHR alerted us that they had decided to admit Brisa's case! We now move onto the merits stage where we will present the facts of her case and the legal harms she suffered at the hands of the state.
We are excited to have had our case admitted and to have another opportunity to hold the government of Bolivia accountable to its obligations to protect adolescent girls from sexual violence.