Since IJM started a campaign this year called No Retrocedemos (No Turning Back) in Guatemala, a chorus of diverse voices are joining together to protect children—from famous soccer players to middle class mothers to presidential candidates.
“Sexual violence is a huge problem in Guatemala and causes a lot of harm in children’s lives so I support this cause and ask that others, especially our society’s leaders, unite to end this and to help children,” said Carlos Figueroa, one of the soccer stars who plays for the Guatemalan futbol team called Comunicaciones FC, or Los Cremas.
The petition asks for the public to take a stand against impunity in sexual violence cases; it is also a call for politicians and government leaders to prioritize justice for victims of sexual abuse.
“I believe that [the violence against children] is something that the entire society in Guatemala, and foreigners here too, should unite over so that justice is possible,” said Agustín Herrera,another player who signed IJM’s petition.
A Special Moment in Time
No Retrocedemos gives the public a voice—an opportunity to bring the issue of child sexual assault to the forefront of the country’s attention.
“The campaign involves sectors of society that traditionally wouldn’t participate in this kind of initiative,” said Pablo Villeda, IJM Vice President of Regional Operations in Latin America.
The campaign comes at a historic time for Guatemala—after months of peaceful protests, top leaders in the country stepped down amid allegations of corruption, and a new president has been elected.
Since IJM started circulating No Retrocedemos in June 2015, more than 15,700 people signed. Eight of the presidential candidates committed to protecting children by signing a No Retrocedemos pledge, including newly elected President Jimmy Morales.
Church groups and IJM staff have walked the streets with the petition for citizens to sign, and large gatherings have also raised awareness and urged people to use their voice to protect children. More than 3,500 pastors and leaders attended a presentation on No Retrocedemos at a national prayer breakfast in August, and thousands of women signed the petition on September 19 at a large conference called Transformadas.
“I’m signing this petition because now Guatemalans are tired of the blight of impunity, a blight on the entire society that hurts our children and abuses our women,” said one woman in support of No Retrocedemos.
Over the last decade, IJM has worked vigorously with law enforcement and national government officials to implement changes in the justice system that make it work more effectively and ethically. Now, a new sex crimes police unit exists, specialized courts try these cases, and children are able to testify in close-circuit chambers without having to face their criminal.
IJM helped implement changes that protect children from violence, but it’s important for leaders to see Guatemalan citizens raising their hands and making these protections a priority.
“It’s like turning a page in Guatemala’s history,” said Holly Burkhalter, IJM Vice President of government relations and a human rights leader in her own right.
“Ordinary people care about the protection of children and the fact that the candidates have an interest in it, means that this is not just a niche political issue for the party in power.”
International Justice Mission is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, working to end modern-day slavery, human trafficking and other forms of violence against the poor by rescuing and restoring victims, restraining perpetrators, and transforming broken public justice systems. Learn more at www.ijm.org.