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justice team news

A screen grab of a video showing Kênia on the BR-116

We have been working with Kênia since she was 14, ever since our Pink House opened there. Since then the team have been increasingly concerned for her welfare. The Justice Team lists the violations of rights that she has suffered/suffers as: family negligence, abandonment, truancy, mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and involvement with drug trafficking.

Kênia is now 16 and we have tried over the last two years to convince the local authorities to intervene. After fleeing family difficulties she was effectively homeless, sleeping from house to house or on the street and exploitated by drugs and prostitution gangs. The last meeting our lawyers had with Catuji's protection network - which includes the children's council, social services and other departments, was on July 7th 2021, when her high level of vulnerability was made clear.

At our November events we showed a video of Kênia (grab above) flagging down trucks on the BR-116. The person filming asks 'what are you?' and she replies 'A prostitute'. And when she turned up at the Pink House recently, she confided in one of the staff that she was involved in prostitution with important men in the town, saying he felt trapped and unable to escape.

Once it was clear that the local council were not interested in protecting Kênia, we took the decision to force local authorities to act through the courts. The Justice Team petitioned the town's prosecutor, who agreed and recommended that the council be obliged to pay for her care in a refuge. However, the town council appealed the decision, claiming that because the teenager's father lived elsewhere, she wasn't their responsibility (even though her mother lived in Catuji, she spent all her time in Catuji, attended Meninadança in the town and was also enrolled in a local government project in the municipality.

After Christmas, the judge rejected the council's appeal and ordered that the council be fined for every day it continued to ignore its duty to Kênia, and until a children's home was found for her. He also ordered that the town's mayor be held legally responsible, and if the council refused to act or pay the fine, the amount would be taken from her own personal bank account.

It was then that the mayor's assistant called our Brazilian director Warlei, demanding that we retract the legal action and implying that if we didn't they would pull out of our partnership with the council (they provide us with the Pink House building, internet and utility bills). We met and unanimously agreed that we would continue with the action even if it meant losing the council's support.

Three days later the council informed the judge that Kênia had been taken to a children's shelter in a nearby town. However, we later found out this was untrue - the council had filed the report before she had been found so the daily fines would stop! In fact it was the children's council and police in Padre Paraiso which, a few days later, found Kênia and took her to the town's children's home.

Kênia went willingly and is happy to have a place where she is safe and being cared for. Because she is in Padre Paraiso our Pink House team there is able to keep in daily contact with her. Because she was deeply involved in drugs gangs and sexual exploitation there is now the concern about her safety, especially if those involved in her exploitation believe she might speak out. Our staff and Justice Team are in close contact with the institution and will continue to support her. We'll keep you informed of her progress.

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