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Young Indigenous women are pictured in Alonso, Paraguay in March 2019.
Jorge Saenz/AP
Girls & Women

Murder of Indigenous Girl in Paraguay Sparks Outrage and Calls for Action Against Sexual Violence

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Sexual violence against women and children is widespread in Paraguay. The United Nations calls on countries worldwide to take concrete steps to eliminate this crisis under its Global Goals, including Global Goal 5 on achieving gender equality. You can join us in taking action on related issues here

The murder of a 12-year-old Guaraní Indigenous girl in Paraguay has renewed public outrage over the country’s failure to confront and stop the crisis of violence against Indigenous children, according to the Guardian.

This tragedy comes after a series of protests earlier this year were planned following the murders of other Indigenous children, the Guardian notes. And although a suspect has been arrested for this murder, advocates worry that this violence will continue despite the protests and calls for change.

The COVID-19 pandemic, meanwhile, has resulted in a surge in sexual violence and domestic abuse globally, according to the United Nations. Although Paraguay has largely contained the coronavirus, the attention paid to public health measures could cause the state to overlook ongoing violence

"The state does so little," Bernarda Pessoa, a leader of the Qom Indigenous people and activist of the Organisation of Rural and Indigenous Women (Conamuri), told the Guardian. "Only the general public debates and protests. But afterwards, it’s as if nothing at all happened. That’s how the stories of the deaths of many Indigenous children end."

Violence against women and children is an epidemic in Paraguay, according to Aníbal Cabrera, executive director of the Paraguayan Coordination Group for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (CDIA).

He told the Guardian that he attributes the violence to the "extremely machista and authoritarian" tendencies that prevail in the country. 

His organization reports that authorities document a case of sexual violence against a minor every two hours, and the full number could be higher considering the underreported nature of sexual violence. Many children who are raped are forced to carry children to term because abortion is illegal in the country. In fact, the UN reports that two children between the ages of 10 and 14 give birth every day in Paraguay.

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Globally, sexual violence against children is rampant, according to the UN.  

Indigenous children in Paraguay are at particular risk because of systemic discrimination that prevents them from receiving fair treatment in the legal system, according to Pessoa.

Pessoa told Amnesty International that daily life in Paraguay — whether she’s riding the bus or going to the doctor — is a struggle against forces that want to erase her identity. 

"Paraguay is a very discriminating country, it is a society that does not yet recognize Indigenous peoples and especially their languages," she said. "In schools, our language is not yet taught, only Guaraní, Spanish, and English; it is not even in textbooks for our schools and that is due to discrimination."

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She added that the lack of Indigenous representation in political office often means that issues facing the Indigenous community are rarely championed. 

Ending violence against Indigenous children requires government assistance to develop community shelters, trauma recovery centers, and educational resources. 

Sexual education programs, in particular, need to be overhauled to include lessons on sexual violence and how to identify and address it, according to Cabrera. 

Otherwise, violence against children will continue. 

"It’s almost as if there’s a complicit silence," he told the Guardian. "We need to form a social agreement between everyone: we need to improve as a society in our protection of children and respect for their lives."