World’s First Anti-Abuse Toys

ASUNCION — “Remove your hand”, “You’re hurting me”, “Don’t touch me here”, I’m going to tell.”

With these simple words, Arami and her male friend Amaru teach little ones how to say “no” to sexual violence.

Thanks to an electronic device with sensors in the doll’s intimate parts, the figurines threaten to tell when they are touched inappropriately.

The creators hope that children will learn to do the same if sexually harassed.

The toys are believed to be the world’s first anti-abuse dolls to raise children’s awareness of a silent threat.

In the Mauricio Cardozo Ocampos public school in Luque, a city 18 kilometres north of the capital Asuncion, Ana Noguera is entertaining schoolboys and schoolgirls with the new dolls.

Despite their young age, they understand the message.

“Do you like these dolls?”, asks the school’s teacher Ana Noguera.

“Yes”, says Mara Victoria Dentise, her four-year old pupil.

“What did these dolls teach you?”

“That you have to share”, replies Mara Victoria.

“Is (sharing) important?”

“Yes”, replies the child.

Since August 2016, Paraguay‘s Ministry of Education and Culture, with private companies, distributed 500 anti-abuse toys to public schools and education centres.

With the support of Amnesty International, a national campaign was launched by Diaz Gil, the laboratory that makes the dolls, to shed light on this crucial issue.

Two children under 14 give birth every day in Paraguay, according to the Health Ministry.

In fact, there were 778 underage girls pregnant last year in a country that has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America.

“The anti-abuse dolls were launched for the first time here in Paraguay. It was an exclusivity. It was well-received by the children. They grasped how to use them and the toys’ message. These are very lovable dolls that foster the love and affection of every boy and every girl,” says Renate Jenning, Director of Diaz Gil Laboratory.

Ana Noguera feels she has a critical role to play in educating little ones before it’s too late.

They’re only three to five years old, but they’re listening carefully and participating in the class.

“We’re creating a project. We’re starting by talking about every child’s (physical) characteristic. This is fundamental for me. From there, they learn and understand how to take care of themselves. Some parents are bothered by the fact we refer to sexuality, but we have to speak about it at school. Oftentimes, we discover at school the abuses children suffer at home,” says the teacher.

For Melizza Soto, Mara Victoria’s mother, making sex a taboo is dangerous for the child.

Unlike many parents in Paraguay, she decided to speak to her daughter about everything.

“In my family, (sexuality) is not taboo. We try to answer correctly all the questions she asks about sexuality or any other topic. We don’t invent or say ‘no, you shouldn’t ask this’ or ‘this isn’t a question for children’. She has a future: once she grows up and moves out of home, reality will be very different,” she says.

Alberto Cabrera, who works for the advertising agency that marketed the national campaign, says sex remains a shameful topic in Paraguay.

“Here in Paraguay, we don’t speak about (sexuality). Sexual education doesn’t exist in schools nor at home. Parent don’t speak about it. Psychologists told us that there is no conversation about it, so what better way to reach out to children than playing? Parents don’t have the issue or don’t have to fear speaking to their children about the fact we can’t touch their breast for example.”

In a society of six million, there is a lot to be done to protect women and girls, according to human rights groups.

Amnesty International says Paraguay is not committed enough to protect girls and women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

But the anti-abuse dolls are a step in the right direction.

“It’s a very didactic learning. What Amnesty does is to say that these (the anti-abuse dolls) are a part of what comprehensive sexual education should include. It should go much beyond, but (the anti-abuse dolls) are a start of what Paraguayshould do in terms of comprehensive sexual education,” says María José Garcete, Action Manager at Amnesty International Paraguay.

As they lend an ear to what Arami and Amaru have to say, the children are slowly taking control of their own bodies.

The laboratory plans to build 10,000 dolls next year with the help of other private companies.

This video was produced exclusively for The Associated Press in October 2016. It was released on November 9, 2016. Click here to watch it. If the link does not work, search: PARAGUAY ANTI ABUSE DOLLS

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