Defending children's rights

Sexual AbuseSexual AbuseAdvocacy

Ruth Alvarado, Director of AGAPE, describes how the focus of its work has changed.

Tearfund partner AGAPE originally worked with children who were abused, providing a safe house in Lima. Over several years, staff realised that many of the children came from the same part of Lima – the slum area known as Huaycán – which has a high rate of sexual abuse and mistreatment. This area is the main route for migrants coming in from the east of Lima and is a place where the former guerrilla movement, the Shining Path, was very active.

AGAPE now has a base in Huaycán, where it tries to prevent the situations that lead to abuse. Children can be abused in different ways. They may be physically, emotionally or sexually abused.

AGAPE works closely with the municipal offices and legal system. Legal claims for family issues involving children are free and the government provides psychiatrists and lawyers. However, because of the great demand, not all cases can be helped. AGAPE’s work and its willingness to collaborate is appreciated by government staff. However, in raising awareness and preventing the abuse of children, its work goes far beyond the capacity of government staff.

AGAPE provides a safe house, so that children who are at risk can be removed from their families until it is safe for them to return home. Staff hope to return children to their homes within one year and so far have an 80% success rate in resolving problems in the children’s own homes. If children are unable to return home they are placed with other families for adoption. All courts in Lima have been told of this safe house so they can refer cases to AGAPE.

AGAPE works in local schools, providing regular training for teachers and holding meetings with parents. Teachers are now aware of the signs of abuse and can refer children they believe are at risk. Children are also taught how to defend themselves from abuse.

AGAPE also provides training to raise awareness in churches. AGAPE has wonderfully committed and caring staff. Their work is extended by a large team of voluntary promoters, most of them church members, trained by AGAPE staff. They select and train three kinds of promoters:

Family promoters These provide practical and emotional support for families with difficulties. They often work within the churches and follow up cases of abuse.

Legal promoters Their work is to support women and children in claiming their legal rights. They help single mothers to protect their rights and claim support from fathers through the courts. Elizabeth Soriano became a promoter after AGAPE staff visited her church. She visits mothers in their homes so she is aware of their situations. She helped two of them visit their homes in the jungle area to find birth certificates for their children so they could claim their legal rights.

Child promoters These are selected from children who attend children’s clubs run by AGAPE. Clubs are held on Saturdays during school terms and on Wednesdays and Fridays during school holidays. The children play games and gain understanding of the meaning of abuse, often through role-plays. They learn how to defend themselves and about the rights they have as children. Aratatipe is 11 and has been a child promoter for two years. She talks to children in the clubs and at school, especially those she is concerned about. They find it easier to come and talk to her before approaching an adult for more help.

Ruth Alvarado is Director of AGAPE, Huaycán, Peru. Its email address is: ministerioagape@speedy.com.pe