Helena

Keeping children safe from violence

Murder rates in Central America are the highest in the world. Violence has become normal, and this tragically even extends to children in their own homes.

Helena is 11, the oldest of three children whose daily lives have been defined by violence, volatility and sexual abuse at the hands of the men their mother brought home. Their father had been long gone.

But Helena has real courage. Instead of staying silent, she told a teacher about her home life.

The teacher contacted Viva’s partner network, Red Viva Guatemala, and a counsellor went to visit.

Despite her mother’s denials, the counsellor confirmed the abuse Helena had reported. The children were taken to a children’s home – also a member of the network – where they are now safe.

This isn’t the end of the line for Helena’s family, however. Viva knows that children belong in families, so network members are working hard to help Helena’s mother deal with her addictions, find a new job, and turn her life around so her children can come home.

Red Viva Guatemala’s work has won the attention and trust of the government, who have authorised network members to enter homes to rescue children and investigate reports of abuse. Psychiatrists, teachers and social workers from the network donate their time and skills to help keep children safe.

It is this joined-up approach – harnessing social capital and government resources and authority – that means significant change is possible.

Viva has launched a new six-city programme across Central America to keep 35,000 children safe from violence and to bring about a fundamental change of attitude, so violence against children is no longer an everyday norm.

Viva’s big dream in Guatemala City is to see children grow up free from violence and domestic abuse.

You can read more about the global issue of violence against children at the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Marta Santos Pais’s ‘Violence Against Children’ website. There is more detailed information about the situation of children in Latin America and the Caribbean in UNICEF’s report ‘Child abuse: a painful reality behind closed doors’.