3 December 2007

by Sarah MacDonald


I'll call her "Luz" ("Light") because that is what I wish for her. Fourteen
years old and small for her age, she looks about eleven. Yet, as one CPTer
says, "She's lived too much for fourteen." Prostituted as a child, sexually
abused by a neighbor, Luz lives in the Colombian countryside with her
elderly grandparents. Her age and family situation make Luz a target for
abuse. In a community suffering displacements, death threats and poverty--a
community clinging to the edge of survival--Luz is one of the most
vulnerable members.

At her family's home, I noticed how withdrawn and quiet Luz is, her gaze
often averted, her spirit folded tightly inside her. Life, it seems, has
already taught Luz to make herself small. When my teammate and I played
games with the other children, we invited Luz several times before she would
join us. But when she finally came to play, I saw an occasional smile flash
across her face, as if a candle had been lit inside her. How I longed to
fan that tiny flame of joy--hope for a young girl who already knows too well
the roughness of life. * *

A couple weeks later, I traveled with another teammate to the region of
Tiquisio, where we accompany the Citizens' Process of Tiquisio, a movement
of community organization, self-determination and development. Like other
communities CPT-Colombia accompanies, Tiquisio has been the site of struggle
between armed groups; residents here suffer forced displacements and the
disintegration of community services and human rights. The Citizens'
Process aims to mend this torn, unraveling social fabric.

One day, members of the Citizens' Process presented a workshop on sexual
health as a human right. Most of the topics were grim: unchosen
pregnancies, domestic violence, AIDS and other STDs. When a woman listed a
few statistics of sexual ill health in Tiquisio, I saw why this workshop was
needed. At least 50% of children throughout Tiquisio get abused by adults,
she said.

The number still jars me. Fifty percent. At least. More children are
abused than not in this region--and I can't believe Tiquisio is unique in
war-racked Colombia.

I think of Luz, and I imagine thousands of children like her. Thousands of
flickering, fragile points of light, in danger of being irrecoverably
snuffed out. Though perhaps less visible than the guns and landmines of the
armed conflict, such violence is no less vicious. It is also directly
connected, since domestic violence and sexual abuse happen more frequently
in communities battered by the violence of war. Here in Colombia, there is
the further tragedy of legal and illegal armed actors seducing children from
their homes. The likelihood of children suffering sexual abuse is
frighteningly high.

How do we get in the way of this violence?