A 12-year-old girl is pregnant after being raped for years by her father and others in a Bolivian prison, causing fury in Bolivia over the practice of letting children live in jails.
Statistics show that about 1,500 young children and adolescents live in prisons in Bolivia with their convict relatives. This places children in a situation where rape and other kinds of abuse are bound to occur. Children of inmates are often forced to live with them because they have no other relatives, or because both of their parents are in jail.
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The child told authorities that she was repeatedly raped by her father, uncle, and godfather since she was eight years old. University professor and political analyst Carlos Cordero said the girl's situation was partially a result of the "miserable conditions and neglect of the inmates."
"The girl is two months pregnant," said Ramiro Llanos, the country's prisons director. Child protection officials are now handling the case and have offered the girl psychological counseling.
Llanos himself spent part of his childhood living in a jail with his father, a political prisoner of the country's military dictatorship in the 1960s. He told urged police to "stop being so corrupt and stop allowing children in prisons.''
Yolanda Herrera, president of the independent Human Rights Assembly, says that "the problem is not that children are inside prisons - the problem is that there are no state policies for the protection of children.''
The girl was living in the San Pedro prison in La Paz, where 500 other children live with their parents. San Pedro is known for making the news several years ago, when it was reported that visitors were able to easily buy cocaine as police turned a blind eye.
"It is traumatic to live in a place like this,'' said Stefano Toricini, a volunteer for an Italian non-governmental organization who has provided counseling to children at San Pedro for the past decade. "The kids live in a state of constant psychological pressure, and the culture of violence that pervades prisons is not for children.''
Bolivia's police chief, General Alberto Aracena, said, "As a human being, I cannot imagine that children are made to live in prisons, because I can see that they are exposed to all sorts of dangers and risks.''
Police say that with the support of Congress, they will carry out a census of the children living in jails and give officers special training to handle the situation.
Prisons in Bolivia are the second most crowded in the region, after those in El Salvador. Although they are meant to house 3,740 inmates, there are actually 13,840 inmates living in the prison, according to the Organization of American States.