A Mexican man accused of raping an 8-year-old girl was “punished” by being made to buy her father two cases of beer. The case highlights the problem of traditional customs replacing Mexican law in Mexico’s isolated, indigenous communities, as well as the larger problem of Mexico’s somewhat spotty record on women’s rights, The Guardian is reporting.
Santiago Quetzalapa is an isolated, indigenous community about 280 miles southeast of Mexico City. Dirt poor, lacking roads and cellular service, and largely isolated from the rest of society, the area is populated largely by the descendants of Mexico’s original inhabitants before the Europeans came.
— DiariOaxaca (@DiariOaxaca_) October 6, 2016
There, authorities say, a 55-year-old man, described by Mexican newspaper Ruta 135 as a former pastor, was accused of raping an 8-year-old girl.
Instead of filing a complaint with the police, the victim’s family reported the crime to the local, tribal authorities. And the authorities in the insular community decided to settle the matter by ordering the alleged rapist to buy the victim’s father two cases of beer.
So how could such a seemingly outrageous miscarriage of justice be allowed to happen in Modern-day Mexico? Mexican journalist Helder Palacios explained to The Guardian that indigenous Mexican communities are allowed, by Mexican law, to govern themselves – up to a point. The policy was intended to allow Mexico’s indigenous people to continue their usos y costumbres (“traditions and customs”), in order to allow their traditional way of life to thrive.
Unfortunately, being allowed to govern according to ancient, pre-Columbian tradition has had some unintended consequences, according to Palacios, particularly when it comes to human rights.
“The argument in these municipalities is that they are governed by their own traditions and customs, but they ultimately end up committing human rights abuses.”
The system is particularly egregious when it comes to sex crimes, and the area around Santiago Quetzalapa has had more than its share. Palacios said the region has a history of abuses of the system, handling sex crimes internally and without the intervention of Mexican authorities.
“There are cases in which there was impunity, there’s no investigation and local prosecutors never receive a criminal complaint.”
Graciela Zabaleta, director of the Mahatma Gandhi Human Rights Center in the Mexican city of Tuxtepec, says she’s seen it all before: victims of sex crimes report the matter to the local tribal authorities, instead of Mexican law enforcement. And instead of justice, they get payoffs.
“A lot of cases are settled this way: with a bottle of liquor.”
The usos y costumbres system victimizes women and girls beyond just a patriarchal attitude towards sex crimes. Years ago, an indigenous woman named Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza was elected mayor of her town, but tribal elders forbade her from taking office because she is a woman. Mendoza went on to become the speaker of the Oaxaca state legislature.
Zabaleta says things have been worse since she began campaigning for human rights in Mexico’s indigenous communities.
“When I started, girls were sold for a piece of land or donkeys or for money. Things have gotten better.”
Fortunately for the 8-year-old rape victim, her alleged assailant has been taken into custody by Mexican police, and he will face the regular Mexican criminal court system for his alleged actions. Once this story reached the ears of Mexican authorities, and following a public outcry in the Oaxaca state, authorities intervened and arrested the man.
[Featured Image by Vasileios Karafillidis/Shutterstock]