La Asunta (Bolivia) (AFP) - The police car lights flashed in the dark and dusty streets of the Bolivian mountain village of La Asunta. The officers approached two boys and told them: "Go home, there's a curfew."
But it's not the authorities who decided to order minors to stay home at night and prohibit alcohol consumption in La Asunta, a coca-growing community of 2,000 people beset by a spasm of crime.
It was the villagers themselves.
They demanded the strict measures following the rape of an 11-year-old girl in May by a drunken man.
An 18-year-old suspect from a neighboring region has been detained.
The townspeople were already tired of the drug trafficking and car-running going through the area, but the girl's rape was the last straw.
"I found my daughter bleeding," the girl's father, construction worker Edmundo Luna, told AFP. "We demand justice, because the police asked us for money" to continue the investigation.
Villagers say the suspect was paraded in the street and whipped by residents as punishment.
The village decided to prohibit children under 18 years old from going out from 10:00 pm until sunrise. And nobody is allowed to drink booze.
- 'Neighborhood watchmen' -
"Things were not like this before. But there's a lot of alcohol consumption, thefts, hold-ups. There's sexual abuse," said neighborhood leader Juan Carlos Coche.
"We had to take these decisions," Coche said.
Mayor Reynaldo Calcina said the town government went along with the measures after residents demanded them during neighborhood meetings.
The measures were supposed to last only one month until July 3, but laws are being written to make them permanent, especially after residents learned that two other minors were raped in neighboring communities.
Alcohol has been blamed for sexual assaults and other bad behavior.
"It's precisely because the rape in La Asunta was perpetrated by somebody who was drunk that we took these decisions," Calcina said.
Riding in the police cars patrolling the village's streets are three officers as well as "neighborhood watchmen" -- local shopkeepers, farmers or housewives -- who help guard the village.
When the temperatures dropped to near-freezing levels, the watchmen chew coca leaves, a tradition in the country to fend off cold and exhaustion.
"Sometimes, we bring the youths who we find (breaking the curfew) to the police station," said Coche.
- 'There is no justice' -
Bar owners say the rules have hurt their bottom line.
Julio Mamani, leader of a business association, has asked for a loosening of the citizen-imposed laws.
"We aren't okay with being blamed for the crimes being committed," Mamani said, though he admits that the village is more peaceful now.
La Asunta's police chief, Florencio Quispe, said that since the curfew and dry law were put in place, "there hasn't been violence against women."
According to the nation's ombudsman, 141 girls younger than 12 and another 185 between the ages of 13 and 17 were sexually assaulted last year.
The non-governmental International Justice Mission says the rape of a 16-year-old is reported every day, one of the highest rates in South America.
While national laws call for prison sentences of up to 20 years for rapes, residents of La Asunta clearly have lost faith in the justice system.
"If something ever happens to my daughter, I will take justice into my own hands. I will kill him, buy 20 liters of fuel and burn him," said Virginia Chuquimia, a farmer and mother of six girls. "That's what I would do, because there is no justice."