A Mother Fights for Justice for her Children

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“Since my son started at the NPH nursery, he is happier, because he used to be a very sad and tired child. Thank goodness that since he began there, he's happier!”

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13 Oct 2021

Violeta Guerrera*, 35-years-old, was born in a semi-urban town in the state of Chimaltenango. She grew up as the second youngest daughter with her ten brothers and sisters. Her family’s extreme poverty did not permit Violeta to have a proper and happy childhood. When she was eight years old, Violeta’s mother died due to a gallbladder problem. Her father then took her out of school, leaving Violeta with only a third-grade education.

Guatemalan women and girls frequently experience high levels of social exclusion. Access to formal financial services and resources, health and education services for females are still limited. In the metropolitan area, girls’ educational average is 8 years, while in rural areas, girl’s only average 4 years of schooling. When Violeta was just ten years old, she had to start working in an agricultural company to help the family have food and to survive. Violeta remembers that “My mother was always looking to get money to eat, but my father did not. He never worked, my father only sent us kids to the streets to earn our daily bread!”

After such a sad childhood, Violeta grew up dreaming of a better life. She married Pedro* when she was 18-years old and went to live with him as a way to leave her father’s house. The young couple soon had their first baby and the family grew rapidly with two more children in just a few years. However, Violeta’s problems did not stop when she got married. Instead of a better life for Violeta, her marriage led to worse things.  Pedro’s “machista” (male chauvinist) values led him to not work or support his family.

Chauvinist values are widespread among Guatemalan men. The ENSMI (National Maternal and Child Health Survey) asked Guatemalan men if their wife or partner needs to request permission to carry out certain activities. For example, 81.6% of men indicated that women must ask them for permission to leave their home, 67.0% of men do not allow women to spend money for the family’s needs without asking him, and 77.8% of men require their women to get approval before going to outside activities like work or studying.

With each new child, Violeta’s husband Pedro turned more problematic towards his own family. He began to drink, often shouting and being angry with Violeta and her children. However, Violeta didn’t feel she could leave the children alone with him, due to his violent episodes. One night in particular in a Chimaltenango hospital, Violeta felt she couldn’t continue. Once there, doctors and nurses helped Violeta to file an abuse complaint against her husband. The Public Ministry became involved and the INACIF (National Institute of Forensic Sciences) followed up on this case. The family receives psychological care twice a week.

Gender Violence in Guatemala

All this happened at the end of 2020, but violence against Guatemalan women persists, as it has for many years. Gender violence has been a tool for many men to dominate women, controlling both their lives and bodies. This behavior against women has been sustained by a patriarchal, conservative culture, as well as a fragile system of security and judicial responses that results in impunity for abusers. In 2008, the Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women established centers for female survivors of violence, as well as specialized judicial courts and law enforcement teams to investigate cases of femicide (the violent death of females) and gender-based violence.  This law has led to an increase in criminal complaints against abusive men. The Public Ministry reported that violence against women was the most reported crime. Both girls and boys are victims of domestic violence. According to the Public Ministry, the most commonly reported crime against children and adolescents is “abuse against minors.”

Nowadays, Violeta has the sole right to care for her children. She moved into her father’s old house with her kids. Pedro now faces legal proceedings with the Public Ministry.

Violeta’s family currently lives in a two-room cinderblock house with a sheet metal roof. The kitchen has a dirt floor and an old, malfunctioning stove. The family is still adapting to the new situation because they do not have much furniture, nor any children’s games. In fact, they only possess two beds, a pair of ponchos, and a small basic wardrobe. Violeta describes her family’s current difficulties when she says, “I am a single mother and life is very difficult for me because I don’t have a steady job and I earn only a little. That is why it is very difficult to support my family.”

Her oldest son contributes to the family’s income with informal jobs, but there is barely enough money for the family’s water, electricity and food expenses.

Violeta decided to approach NPH Guatemala after she learned about the many prevention programs and support work they do in the community. Recognizing the gravity of her family’s situation, NPH recommended that the older children be enrolled in the NPH school in 2021 to be able to start the next academic year that begins in February 2022.

Furthermore, NPH put Violeta in contact with the “Oficina de la Mujer” (the Office for Women), a service of the Parramos municipal government. The Office for Women’s commitment is to ensure the well-being of Guatemalan women and families. They help women become participants in their own development, foster women’s community leadership, and promote women’s economic, social and political participation, as well as help to make women aware of their rights. The office also carries out necessary coordination with institutions and support centers that deal with cases of family violence and violence against women, helping to detect and follow up on cases of violence against women and children that occur within the municipality.

Since January 2021, Violeta’s youngest child, a four-year-old son, has been going to the Daily Child Care Center at NPH Guatemala. In the nursery, he receives early stimulation care, balanced nutrition, and adequate space to grow and play with peers his age. “The best thing about having him in the Daily Child Care Center is that he receives good nutrition there, including vitamins to stimulate his hunger. They also send some food for the family, all of that helps me a lot.” Nowadays, Violeta feels happy and optimistic about her life. Thanks to NPH’s support, she is sure that life will continue to improve for herself and her children.

NPH is committed to the promotion and implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Through our Prevention programs, we support Violeta and her family with SDG 2 Zero Hunger, SDG 4 Quality Education, and SDG 5 Gender Equality.

*Names changed to protect identities.