SAN MARTIN, El Salvador – Six-year-old Aylín holds up a poster and reads it aloud. “I have the right to a loving family,” she says. “All girls deserve to have a loving and caring family.”

Lady Carmona, 8, reads her own poster. It’s about the right to control her own body. She says that if someone touches her inappropriately, the first thing to do is to inform an adult she trusts. "There are laws that protect girls so that this doesn’t happen," she says.

Genesis, 9, advocates for the right to participation. "For girls, this right is very important because I feel happy when I’m listened to,” she says. “I believe that our opinions should be heard.”

"All girls deserve to have a loving and caring family" - Aylín, 6

Along with 15 others, Aylín, Lady Carmona and Genesis are rehearsing ‘The Train of Rights’, a theatre performance in which each carriage of a train represents a different right. It’s designed to build girls’ self-esteem, educate them about their rights and teach them what to do if they experience violence. 

Some of the statements may seem obvious to adults, but for children growing up in one of the most dangerous regions of El Salvador, love and safety isn’t always guaranteed - especially for girls. El Salvador has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world. 

Children in San Martin, El Salvador, learn about their rights through theatre. Photo: UNICEF.

Finding a voice through theatre

"Girls and adolescents find it difficult to express their concerns and we have found that theatre is an ideal means of communicating with them," says Elmer Bautista, from the Mayor's Children, Adolescents and Youth Unit.

"There are laws that protect girls" - Lady Carmona, 8

Theatre productions like these are part of a Spotlight Initiative partnership with the Municipality of San Martín to use activities to speak to young people about violence prevention. Games, puppets, painting and crafts all become vehicles to empower youth to speak out against violence.

Doris Carpio, another member of the Children, Adolescents and Youth Unit, says the programmes have led to increased reporting of bullying and cybercrime. What’s more, the activities create a broader awareness of girls’ rights. When children perform and share what they’ve learned, it makes parents and caregivers cognizant of the risks children face at home, at school and in the community.

Girls rehearsing the play 'Train of Rights' in San Martin, El Salvador. Photo: UNICEF. 

From play to advocacy

Spotlight Initiative is partnering with local governments and grassroots organizations across El Salvador as part of a €50 million investment to end violence against women and girls in Latin America. Fourteen of the world’s 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide are located in the region, but young people are speaking out - and they’re being heard.

In San Martin City, 240 young people have joined a municipal decision-making body to ensure that the ideas and needs of young people are incorporated into local policy, including those of the most vulnerable. Together, the next generation is working to build a more equitable world - one that more closely reflects the hopes and ambitions of girls like Aylín, Carmona and Genesis.

By Rosarlin Hernández