On August 14, Ecuador commemorated the country’s first national day against sexual violence in schools. A year ago, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Ecuador responsible for the violations of Paola Guzmán Albarracín’s rights. Paola, who was 14 when her vice principal raped and abused her, took her own life in 2002. The court ordered Ecuador to declare and commemorate this national day, among other measures.
Sexual violence is a pervasive problem in Ecuador’s schools. Teachers, administrative staff, and school bus drivers have raped, sexually abused, and harassed thousands of students, often without consequence. Many students have also perpetrated sexual abuse against other students, including online. Young survivors face harassment, bullying, and intimidation from teachers and peers. Many experience profound and lifelong effects on their mental and physical health, often with no support.
To its credit, from late 2017, Ecuador’s Ministry of Education adopted binding policies to prevent and eradicate school-related sexual violence, enforcing mandatory reporting. In 2018, it also launched a comprehensive database to register abuses in schools.
But crucial as these actions are, Ecuador faces serious challenges in how schools and education officials respond to sexual violence, including in private schools, and how prosecutors and courts handle cases involving child survivors. Its approach is still weak on prevention and support services for survivors.
At this year’s first commemoration – decreed by former president Lenín Moreno – senior government officials committed to adopt a national strategy to eradicate school-related sexual violence in under 180 days. It’s another important step. In the coming months, Ecuador should fully comply with all the Court’s measures aimed at tackling this persistent problem in its education system, including publishing data on school-related sexual violence, training education staff on how to treat and prevent situations of sexual violence, and assist victims of school-related sexual violence and their families.
The government should adopt a long-term strategy, grounded in prevention and guaranteeing students’ rights to be safe from violence, to receive comprehensive sexuality education, and to access support services and justice for abuses. To deliver on this strategy, the government should allocate a budget commensurate with its obligations to protect all students in Ecuador from abuses.
This post was originally published on Human Rights Watch News.