Mexico’s Orphanages – Black Holes for Children

  • by Emilio Godoy (mexico city)
  • Monday, August 18, 2014
  • Inter Press Service

Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

"The situation is very serious," said Laura Martínez, director of the non-governmental Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño, in the city of Irapuato in the central state of Guanajuato, some 300 km north of Mexico City. "The higher interests of the children aren't taken into account. Their rights are violated.

"There is no national census on where they are, who takes care of them, under which methodology. We should be well-regulated, well-supervised. The regulations are not followed and there is no legislation on this," she told IPS.

Her shelter, known as the Villa Infantil Irapuato, has been taking in children since 1969 and has a capacity to house 40 orphans or children in an at-risk situation, between the ages of six and 20. Since 2003 it has applied its own care protocol.

The children are referred by the state office of the National System for Integral Development of the Family (DIF), and the shelter receives public and private financing.

Orphanages in Mexico operate in a vacuum of legislation, official records and supervision, with widespread problems of noncompliance and a lack of professionalism and funding – a situation that experts say is in violation of international treaties signed by Mexico.

In this country of 118 million people, with some 45 million children under the age of 18, there are around 700 public and private homes providing shelter to 30,000 children. But the Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (Latin American Foster Care Network) estimates that there are roughly 400,000 children in Mexico without parental care, including 100,000 who live on the streets.

The latest scandal over how these institutions are run broke out on Jul. 15, when the attorney general's office announced that 596 people, including 458 children, were rescued from the "La Gran Familia" shelter in Zamora, a city in the western state of Michoacán. They were living in squalid conditions, in rooms infested with cockroaches and rats, according to the authorities.

Residents said they were raped, beaten, held against their will, and forced to beg.

The home, which was founded in 1947, was run by Rosa del Carmen Verduzco, known as "Mamá Rosa". She was deemed unfit to face prosecution because of her age and health problems, but six of her collaborators have been charged with kidnapping, child abuse and sexual abuse. The centre was shut down permanently on Jul. 30.

"The state is 30 years behind in terms of guaranteeing the rights of children in public policies," said Martín Pérez, executive director of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children. "The state has never supervised these establishments; every once in a while something comes to light and it remembers them and turns its attention to them."

Since the state does not provide funds, it does not exercise oversight either. "And that leaves children in a vulnerable position. The shelters become a black hole; no one knows what educational method they're using…what damage is caused," Pérez told IPS.

Although the "Mamá Rosa" case was the highest profile scandal, whenever one of the orphanages or children's homes makes it into the news, they all have one thing in common: irregularities in the way they are run.

On Jun. 17, the authorities rescued 33 children ages five to 17 and 10 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 from the Casa Hogar Domingo Savio in the central city of Puebla, in response to signs of abuse by the director of the home.

In 2011, 19 children were freed from the Instituto Casa Hogar Nuestro Señor de la Misericordia y Nuestra Señora de la Salette in Mexico City. The victims of abuse had received death threats to keep them from reporting the conditions they were held in.

Two years earlier, the authorities removed 126 mistreated youngsters from the "Casitas del Sur" shelters run by the non-governmental organisation Reintegración Social. They also found that 15 had gone missing, three of whom are still lost.

The Social Assistance Law requires the health ministry to monitor the homes for children. But the supervision is practically nonexistent.3

International concern

For over a decade, Mexico has been in the sights of international bodies for these practices.

In its recommendations to the Mexican state in 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the large number of children placed in private institutions without any supervision, and suggested the creation of a directory and database of children in private homes.

"The Committee is concerned about lack of information (number, conditions of living, etc.) on children separated from their parents who are living in institutions. The Committee notes the large number of children in institutions managed by the private sector, and regrets the lack of information and oversight by the state on these institutions," the document says.

The Committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, recommended that the state establish regulations based on children's rights and introduce effective legislation, reinforcing existing structures such as the extended family, improving training of staff and allocating increased resources to the relevant bodies.

In the February 2014 report "The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family. Alternative Care. Ending Institutionalization in the Americas", the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Organisation of American States (OAS) member countries to "properly regulate the operation of residential care facilities and carry out proper oversight, investigating them and, where appropriate, punishing any violations of children's rights that take place in these facilities."

"Institutionalising children continues to be a common response to these situations in the countries of the region, although evidence shows that the way many residential institutions currently operate does not guarantee that the rights of the children who are put in them are protected, and exposes them to situations of violence, abuse, and neglect," the IACHR concluded.

Civil society groups in Mexico plan to launch an offensive to pressure the state to fulfill its obligations.

During the 69th session of the pre-sessional Working Group of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to be held Sept. 22-26, a delegation of children, along with UNICEF – the U.N. chidren's fund – and non-governmental organisations, will present a report in Geneva on the situation of children, including minors without parental care.

In May-June 2015, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, made up of 18 independent experts, will evaluate Mexico.

And the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, Rosa María Ortiz, will visit Mexico in October to draw up a report on the situation here.

"We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisaton and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions," said Pérez of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children.

Martínez, the head of the Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño de Irapuato children's home, said it is important to take a close look at what kind of care each organisation provides. "The current model is too welfare-oriented. And who can guarantee monitoring of the cases? There is another approach that should be followed – working for a child's development."

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

© Inter Press Service (2014) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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