The issues: Sexual and gender-based violence & neglect of young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights
In Colombia in 2011, 19,433 children and young people were reported as victims of sexual violence. Because of the hidden nature of this crime, where the abuser is often a close family member of the child, the majority of cases are never reported. It has however been estimated that around 200,000 children are sexually abused in Colombia each year.
Sexual violence is a violation of a child's basic rights. It damages their health, welfare and development, and it increases the likelihood that they will experience further abuse. It can also result in child pregnancy. Between 2010 and 2012, 17,578 child pregnancies were registered in the city of Cali alone. The majority of these pregnancies occurred in children from the lowest income groups, living in the most marginalised barrios of the city.
These children and young people do not have access to adequate information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, which limits the possibility of them making informed decisions about these rights. Children in the area have told Si Mujer that in their communities and schools there are high levels of sexual violence and child pregnancy and that they don't know where to go when these things happen.
These same children were not even aware that intercourse with a child under 14 years old (the age of consent in Colombia) is considered rape, or that under-age girls who fall pregnant as a result of rape have the right to seek a safe and legal abortion in Colombia.
How Si Mujer is addressing this issue
Children Change Colombia's partner Fundación Si Mujer currently offers the longest running service in Cali for victims of sexual abuse. They have over 30 years of experience working in this area both independently and with the Colombian government and international organisations.
Si Mujer, with Children Change Colombia and the Big Lottery Fund's support, have implemented an innovative new project – to set up their own child friendly healthcare service designed, implemented and run with the active participation and leadership of children and young people themselves, ensuring that it is easily accessible for all who need it.
This service targets the most vulnerable children, and provides care to children with HIV and AIDS, with disabilities, and who are living in care, among others. To ensure that it is accessible to every child who needs it, a mobile version of the service also travels directly into the most marginalised neighbourhoods, taking information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
What does the project do?
The service, which was set up in 2014, provides children and young people who have experienced sexual violence with high quality, easy to access, information, support and care. This includes psychological counselling, contraception, screening and care for sexually transmitted infections and accompaniment through legal processes where required. In cases where rape has resulted in pregnancy or has affected the mental health of the girl or woman, Si Mujer provides unbiased information and care so that girls can make an informed decision about whether to continue with the pregnancy or have a termination, as is their legal right.
The project also strengthens vulnerable children and young people's protection against sexual violence or abuse by providing sex education and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services. This is achieved through workshops on topics relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights, activities in music and art, cine-forums and peer training provided by youth leaders.
The participants are supported to understand about healthy relationships, and about the physical changes children go through, giving them a feeling of control over their bodies and sexuality. They also receive information and support about what to do and who to go to if they feel at risk of sexual violence.
Trained youth leaders play an active role in promoting sexual and reproductive rights in their communities, influencing local and national government, and working with the existing services in Cali to help to improve the care available to all young people in the region.
Community activities, including hip hop, drama and street art, are organised by the young people themselves as a way to engage their communities in the topics and to de-stigmatise the subject of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Case Study: Maria's story
My name is Maria, I am 15 and I have been taking part in Si Mujer's programme for 4 months. I come from a low income barrio where violence is part of our everyday lives. Despite this, though, I have learned to keep away from drugs and crime.
Four years ago I used to think and act very differently. Something happened to when I was a girl that I would not wish on anyone. I was raped. I couldn't understand why it had happened to me. I used to feel guilty because I couldn't work out what I had done to make it happen and I didn't know what I could do differently to ensure it didn't happen to me again. As the years went by, all this got on top of me and I wasn't myself any more. Whenever I remembered what had happened to me I felt drowned by my thoughts.
I came here to Si Mujer thanks to a friend. She didn't know what had happened to me, until the day I opened up and told one of Si Mujer's psychologists. To begin with I didn't want to tell anyone my story, but the psychologist convinced me. Thanks to her and to Si Mujer's programme I have learnt to talk about what happened. I am pleased to count myself as a member of this wonderful project. I am so happy that I have learned to put my fears and anxiety behind me. I am grateful for the love and support I have been given here.
I never tire of thanking Si Mujer for everything they are doing for me – I am learning so much and I love that I can help others who have gone through similar things to me. I want to help them recognise that however difficult their past has been, they can always move on from it, just like I have.
Thank you for your interest in this project.