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Page last updated at 04:26 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 05:26 UK

Bolivian Mennonite women 'raped'

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Mennonites in Bolivia in their distinctive clothing

Seven members of Bolivia's Mennonite Christian community have been detained over the alleged rape of 60 women or girls from their own community.

Alleged victims in the Manitoba colony, which is in Bolivia's eastern lowlands, include girls as young as 14, a prosecutor said.

The allegations emerged after the suspicious behaviour of one of the men alerted community elders.

All of those accused deny the allegations against them.

Some 30-40,000 Mennonites live as farmers in Paraguay and Bolivia.

While many Mennonites, particularly in North America, are indistinguishable from their neighbours and have religious beliefs very similar to mainline Protestant and Evangelical groups, others reject modern life and live in isolated communities.

'Jumping into windows'

Six of the men came from the same colony, Manitoba, in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia.

Members of the community told us... they didn't move about late at night but these youths did and were spotted jumping into the windows of houses
Freddy Perez
Prosecutor

The men have been charged with child abuse and rape, and forming a criminal gang.

They are now in custody in a prison in the town of Cotoca, in the Santa Cruz region.

Colony elders suspected something was wrong when they wondered why one man was getting up so late in the mornings, and they decided to shadow him, said prosecutor Freddy Perez.

They then handed the case over to the police.

MENNONITES
Mennonite Churches descend from Protestant communities in Europe
There are said to be some 1.5 million Mennonites worldwide
Mennonites follow the teachings of Menno Simons, a 16th Century religious leader from what is now the Netherlands
Recent figures suggest there are 15,400 Mennonites in Bolivia
Sources: Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia, Mennonite World Conference

One suspect, who is from another Mennonite colony, is accused of complicity and of selling viagra to the men and narcotic sprays allegedly used on victims while they slept.

Denying the charges against him, the suspect said he was a veterinary surgeon and used the drugs in his work.

Mr Perez told the Associated Press: "Members of the community told us that for religious reasons, and because they didn't have electric lighting, they didn't move about late at night but these youths did and were spotted jumping into the windows of houses."

Forensic doctors and psychologists have been sent into the Manitoba community to examine the victims, the prosecutor said.

Many in this very conservative and closed world have been traumatised, Mr Perez added.

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A man, whose name was not given, told Bolivia's Unitel TV that his wife had been sexually assaulted when she was six and a half months pregnant.

"I spent US $1,500 to have a baby that was born weighing one kilogram," he said. "It is very painful."

Some of the younger girls fear they will now be unable to find husbands.

The criminal investigation into the case is expected to last six months.



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SEE ALSO
Timeline: Bolivia
02 Aug 12 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Bolivia
02 Aug 12 |  Country profiles

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