Outrage in Bolivia after 12-year-old living in jail raped

LA PAZ (AFP) - The case of a 12-year-old girl who is pregnant after being raped for years by her father and others in a La Paz prison has sparked outrage in Bolivia over the practice of letting children live in jails.

According to government figures, about 1,500 young children and adolescents live in Bolivian prisons with their convict relatives - a situation critics say is ripe for the kind of abuse suffered by the young girl.

Children of inmates often are forced to live with them in prison because they have no other relatives, or because both parents are in jail.

"The girl is two months' pregnant," said the country's prisons director Ramiro Llanos.

The child has told authorities she was repeatedly raped by her father, uncle and godfather since she was eight years old, Mr Llanos told local media Wednesday.

The case is now in the hands of child protection officials, who have offered the girl psychological counseling.

University professor and political analyst Carlos Cordero said the girl's situation was in part the result of the "miserable conditions and neglect of the inmates."

The San Pedro prison in La Paz, where 500 children live with their parents and where the incident took place, is infamous because several years ago, visitors were able to easily buy cocaine as police turned a blind eye.

The minors share living space with violent criminals - murderers, rapists, gang members and drug dealers. They witness the rampant use of alcohol and drugs, as well as the bloody fights that frequently erupt.

"It is traumatic to live in a place like this," said Stefano Toricini, a volunteer for an Italian non-governmental organization who has provided counseling to children at San Pedro for the past decade.

"The kids live in a state of constant psychological pressure, and the culture of violence that pervades prisons is not for children."

Mr Llanos - who spent part of his childhood living in a jail with his father, a political prisoner of the country's military dictatorship in the 1960s - called on police to "stop being so corrupt and stop allowing children in prisons," in comments to the Pagina Siete newspaper.

For Yolanda Herrera, president of the independent Human Rights Assembly, "the problem is not that children are inside prisons - the problem is that there are no state policies for the protection of children."

Bolivia's police chief, General Alberto Aracena, said: "As a human being, I cannot imagine that children are made to live in prisons, because I can see that they are exposed to all sorts of dangers and risks."

With the support of Congress, police have said they will carry out a census of the children living in prisons and give officers special training to deal with the situation, Gen Aracena said.

Prisons in Bolivia are the second most crowded in the region, after those in El Salvador. They are designed to house 3,740 prisoners, but there are 13,840 inmates, according to the Organisation of American States.