"GRABBING ON TO LIFE"

In 2019, Guatemala’s Secretary of Social Welfare (SBS), created Specialized Attention Programs for Child and Adolescent Victims of Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (TIP) through shelters for victims in Guatemala City and the city of Coatepeque.

Under the “Strengthening TIP Prevention and Protection in Guatemala” project, PADF works with the SBS to strengthen the capacity of these shelters’ programs and staff, as well as the staff of the SBS’s departmental offices, which attend to child and adolescent victims of trafficking, with a particular focus on the shelter in Coatepeque. As of June 2020, this shelter had attended to 90 girls and adolescents under the specialized program supported by PADF and project partner El Refugio de la Niñez.

Under the “Strengthening TIP Prevention and Protection in Guatemala” project, PADF works with the SBS to strengthen the capacity of these shelters’ programs and staff, as well as the staff of the SBS’s departmental offices, which attend to child and adolescent victims of trafficking, with a particular focus on the shelter in Coatepeque. As of June 2020, this shelter had attended to 90 girls and adolescents under the specialized program supported by PADF and project partner El Refugio de la Niñez.

Throughout 2019, El Refugio de la Niñez strengthened the SBS’s teams by helping to implement a new residential attention model, sharing methodologies, supporting knowledge and learning, exchanging best practices, and identifying challenges and limitations in order to provide specialized attention to child and adolescent victims of trafficking in persons.

“Karla” is a 16-year-old girl from the department of Guatemala who was a victim of trafficking in persons for gang activity and entered the Specialized Program in Coatepeque pregnant with her third child.

Upon arriving, Karla cried a lot, could not sleep, did not want to eat, threw herself against the floor and injured her belly. She also incited other girls to rebel or commit suicide, while showing continued attachment to her recruiters, gang members, and the head of the gang. One gang member, who was also her child’s father, forced Karla to monitor and document the daily routines of people who did not pay extorsion. He wanted her to become part of the gang and asked that she kill her own mother as an initiation ritual. She refused and was rescued by the SBS in Quetzaltenango to receive shelter and protection in the Coatepeque shelter.

In the SBS program, she was matched with psychologists who helped her work on her fears and anxieties. In group therapy, she found friends and emotional support to work on her self-esteem and sense of self. A lawyer helped her and her mother to avoid returning to trafficking, and shelter staff helped her to start studying again.

After working with psychologists, social workers, and educators from the shelter, Karla wants to live, accepts her baby, and participates in activities. She wants to return to live with her mother to study and change her life. Karla, in her own words, says “I want to grab on to life.”

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