It's your turn initiative

The Faces of Hunger

Real Stories



A New Life Coloured Blue

© UNICEF/Gua2006/ElenaPrieto
The handwriting and the drawings in her notebook reveal Fabiola’s young age, which is not congruent with her experience.

By Elena Prieto

“I am not bitter any more, I am happy now”, repeats Fabiola* many times while she tells her life story, similar to that of thousands of girls and adolescents in Guatemala.

It all began five years ago with the promise to earn more money than what she was making in El Salvador, her country of origin. She was 13 years old and wanted to visit places and travel to other countries.  Her innocent intentions were cut short the day after she arrived in the neighbouring country without her identity documents. “We arrived in Retalhuleu and I did not like it; it was too hot. We went to a bar where I thought I could get a job as a waitress but the other girls in the bar told me what we were actually  hired to do, and I felt really bad”.

This feeling never left her during the four years that she was sexually exploited in that bar and in other five places that her employer owned throughout the region. “I cried just about every night.  I wanted to take off and never come back”. Fabiola mentions that she began to take drugs out of despair. “I smoked crack and marihuana to forget.

I also drank heavily because the customers paid for it and that is how my days went by”.

Day in and day out, Fabiola was exploited as a prostitute from 9:00 am till dawn and was not allowed to go out of the business, not even to buy a few things. This went on until the police, in collaboration with members from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, raided the place and found Fabiola and other twelve girls who, like her, had stopped being children too soon. 

Fabiola abandoned that city along with that way of life accompanied by her ten-month old daughter Magali*. “After my baby girl was born, I could not keep her with me.  My employer told me that if the police came we would be fined and I alone would have to pay for the fine.  So I decided to hire a woman to take care of my baby and only saw her once a week”, she explains.

These sad and harsh memories make Fabiola’s face grow sombre in sharp contrast with the happiness she displayed momentarily while hugging her daughter when she woke up from her nap. The bond between mother and daughter radiates tenderness and evidences how their relationship has evolved since they arrived at the foster care institution.  Under this programme, they have been provided assistance and protection they so badly needed to give their lives a different direction.  “At the beginning, I was desperate because I did not know what to do.  I was only 16 when she was born and she seemed so frail. Things have changed now and I feel that we understand each other better”.

© UNICEF/Gua2006/ElenaPrieto
Although she continues to live in a foster care institution, Fabiola’s life resembles that of any young mother.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), addresses the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of boys, girls and adolescents in three areas: (a) Prevention with emphasis in the laws and the systems used to enforce the law; (b) recovery and reintegration which consists in reaching out for boys and girls who are victims of sexual exploitation to release them from those situations; (c) provide them with services and support.

A new future

As an adolescent mother, Fabiola is beginning to analyse her role as a mother. “My daughter has all my love and trust and will have them forever so that she will feel free to tell me everything and I can give her good advice. Perhaps I will tell her all I did while I was in Guatemala.  However, if I ever decide to tell her this part of my life, my intention will be to advise her against discrimination.”

It will be two years in November since she left the bar and wants to return to El Salvador. “I will return to my mother’s home.  I know it has been a long time and now I have a daughter but I want to go back home and continue with my life. I want to pursue my studies to have a better future.  What I regret the most is having left school and my parents house”.  She does not know for sure what her career will be but it is in her plans to finish middle school and to proceed with upper level (diversificado) next year.  She will then decide what to do next.

Her life has changed. She had a job interview this morning. “I was very nervous because I have never worked in a ‘maquila’ before and it is frightening to see so many people. But I think I will get the job and I will be very good at it”.  Her next objective is to approve the science and music tests she will be taking in four days. In the meantime, she will continue to take her daughter Magali* to the nursery every morning, wash clothes and listen to her favourite singers...

Always trying to see life in a positive colour “I look back and I see a black past but I see my future blue, which is the colour of purity and intelligence.”

*A fictitious name



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