Dominican clowns cross the country on foot to protest child abuse

Santo Domingo, Jan 18 (epa-efe).- Two-dozen Dominican clowns arrived in this capital Friday after walking 155km (96mi) from the northern city of Santiago to dramatize widespread abuse of children in the Caribbean nation.

The final destination of the clowns is Higüey, in La Altagracia province, about 145km (90mi) east of Santo Domingo, which they hope to reach by Monday, the feast day of Our Lady of Altagracia, the country's patron saint.

Marching under the banner "Child abuse is no joke," the group was received in Santo Domingo by Rosa Elcarte, head of the UNICEF delegation in the Dominican Republic, who praised the clowns for bringing attention to what she described as a major problem.

In comments to reporters, the organizer of the walk, Johan Martinez, cited figures indicating that in Latin America, one in five girls - and one in 12 boys - has been abused.

Forty clowns set out Tuesday from Santiago, but only 25 reached the capital, though others are expected to join the procession on the road to Higüey.

Studies reveal that thousands of Dominican children and adolescents are victims of sexual abuse and violence and that corporal punishment remains common in households and schools.