Seventeen-year-old Claudia Azucena Fernández Mendoza, who is currently studying fourth year at secondary school, is quite clear that she wants to be a psychologist. “I like giving advice,” she says, “helping people and keeping their self-esteem high,” adding that the training sessions she has received are going to help her a great deal. Claudia is referring to the cycle of workshops she has taken on the prevention of sexual abuse as part of the Network of Adolescent Communicators for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This has been implemented in 2014 in her home municipality of Somoto, in the department of Madriz, and in the municipalities of Bilwi and Bluefields, in the country’s northern and southern Caribbean autonomous regions, respectively.
Claudia states that she has learned a lot about how to prevent sexual abuse and has become aware of the vulnerability of children and adolescents to this kind of violence. “The abusers use strategies to be close to the people they want to abuse,” she explains. “They give them presents.” She says that she has shared what she has learned with other people: “When I got out of the workshops I talked about the topic with my cousins.”
The Network of Adolescent Communicators for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse through ICTs is a participation and empowerment strategy aimed at producing a greater impact in terms of adolescents’ participation and decision-making in their own municipalities. On this occasion the emphasis has been on information and communication technologies as a means for producing and disseminating communication products, as well as making the participants reflect on their online presence and on good practices in relation to social networks.
“There are also bad people in the social networks that can hurt us,” Claudia reflects, explaining that harassment, certain images and even “ugly” comments can amount to abuse against children. She thinks that people of her age generally do not have a very good idea of what being in social networks really implies. “I learned that there are so many things we can do in them,” she stresses, “but we must be careful.”
Thanks to the baseline conducted for the programme, we know that Facebook is the most popular social network in the three intervention municipalities. In Somoto, 34 of the 47 adolescent participants said they had a Facebook profile. Other young people who do not have a profile in their own name use the profile of a friend and/or relative they accompany to the cybercafé, paying half of the connection price.
Claudia also explains that she feels good about having learned communication techniques such as photography, making radio spots and editing videos. “I know what I have to do,” she says, “and can encourage other people to push ahead and get on with their lives.”
The programme has involved the participation of 140 adolescents (80 girls and 60 boys) between the ages of 12 and 17 who participated in five three-day workshops. This network strategy is part of the UNICEF #ENDViolence global initiative for the elimination of violence against children initiated in 2013. The initiative calls for the public recognition of the problem of violence against children and encourages support for local movements to address that problem, which is so urgent throughout the world.