Law 779, Nicaragua

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Sitting in a bare room in front of a friendly policewoman typing a Word document on an ageing computer I come to realise the difficulty it is for anyone to get justice in this country. Three times I had to come to this office in order to get anyone to make the report of my stolen laptop. Being a white foreigner in this office helped me in part and hindered me too, but when I think of a young Nicaraguan girl coming in to report her stepfather for rape I can only imagine how her crippling fear and shame would be met with the apathy in the officers lounging about texting and eating takeaway lunches.

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Reportedly there are 940 cases of domestic violence committed every month in Nicaragua, and those are only the ones who have been brave enough to report their abuse. Eighty-five percent of the victims are under the age of 18 years old and one in four of them are girls younger than 10 years old.

The most shocking of all is that 80 percent of these occurrences of rape and sexual abuse are committed by boyfriends, family members, stepfathers, or fathers.

Despite the landmark Law 779 being established in June 2012 that secured the right for women to access justice and protection from violence, finally holding abusers to account, the national problem of interfamilial rape and abuse of women and minors continues to blight Nicaragua.

The most shocking of all is that 80 percent of these occurrences of rape and sexual abuse are committed by boyfriends, family members, stepfathers, or fathers.

Almost everyone has an opinion, from being anti-family to creating a new league of females who manipulate its ability to put men in prison, this law has been ripped to pieces by the media in its 2 years of existence. Then within less than a year, after much criticism, ‘ley 779’ was reformed, weakening its effects by introducing a mediation option between the abuser and the abused which led to lesser sentencing and increased trauma for the victim.

Ask any Nicaraguan male his opinion of the ‘ley 779’ and you will be met with an angry riposte, most likely littered with anecdotes of men known to be in jail for being unjustly accused of abusing a woman (one of the main clauses of the law being that anyone reported for abuse must be immediately imprisoned pending the case being treated by the authorities.)

The feminists reading this will be outraged to know that such stories are in fact true, wily Jezabels who use the law’s seeming belief in the ‘gospel according to all females’ to put men behind bars. But this act of misuse of the law is not without its risks.

Let’s not forget the thousands of cases of sexual abuse of women and children in Nicaragua that have gone unreported in the past for fear of death on the part of the abuser who is almost always in a position of power in the family or community.

Nicaragua’s dilemma: how to create a culture of respecting and valuing women and children  without creating a new generation of females, embittered by the machismo that has marked this country like so many other Latin American nations, abusing the law that has been put in place to protect them?

In my naivety it has taken me to come to Nicaragua to discover the greyness that surrounds women and children’s rights.

I thought that such things where two sided: victim; weak, in the right and to be protected; abuser, evil, powerful and to be imprisoned. These characteristics still hold fast but my belief in government in its many forms in fulfilling its duty to the people has been revealed to be not only ineffective, but an obstruction to justice.

Although Law 779 is something to be celebrated; an unprecedented step towards equality, there is a long road ahead of Nicaragua’s government to bring into actuality their promises to guard the rights its women and children.

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