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Every two days a child is killed in Mexico by a parent

A five year old girl murdered by her stepfather. An eight year old boy starved to death by his family. A mother who suffocated her girls. The complete report: #ToKillOne’sChild / #MatarAUnHijo, for all our english-speaking readers.

Por Alejandra Crail
4 feb 2020

#MatarAUnHijo
Illustrations by Elian Tuya.

Emerging from a rubber, wire and concrete shroud Diana Mía’s “Stay Cool” printed sweater added macabre irony to the discovery made at Tulichek canal, in Baja California’s capital, north of Mexico. The typical gringo farewell expression.

Forensic experts found a 3 foot 7, 44 pounds body, long black hair, light brown skin. The investigative report detailed wounded hands and bruised legs. Plus two missing teeth. Diana Mía was five years old. The perpetrator was her stepfather.

560 miles east, in Saltillo, Coahuila, a small body stands out from a cold autopsy table at the Forensic Unit. It’s a severely emaciated boy. The skin is stuck to his bones: his ribs, collar bone and cheekbones stand out from afar. 

His name is Landon Yahir. His last day alive he was 31 pounds, 60 percent less than the average weight of an eight year old Mexican boy. His family let him starve to death.

Paloma is seated at a table at Santa Martha Acatitla prison, in Mexico City. She’s sentenced to 55 years in prison for killing both her daughters. “I rather they slept so they wouldn’t ask for food, for anything. I didn’t realise,” the woman who can’t remember having suffocated her two girls says crying.

These aren’t exceptional cases in the country. According to figures provided by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), between 2012 and 2017 nearly 2,600 children under 15 years of age were murdered, 42 percent by family members, at home, or in domestic violence-related homicides.

EMEEQUIS created a homicide database out of death certificates processed by INEGI and was able to assess that parents and stepparents are the main perpetrators. 8 out of 10 times they are responsible for killing children between 0 and 14 years old. In a lesser degree these crimes are committed by aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings.

The cases detailed in #ToKillOne’sChild prove the indifference shown by the three branches of government has deadly consequences for children. From failing to acknowledge a cry for help in Landon’s case, to indifference and lack of coordination among authorities in Diana Mía’s to systemic violation of a girl’s rights—later turned child mother and murderess—in Paloma’s case. 

Despite the fact that the Constitution and international laws guarantee children’s and adolescent’s protection, they’re often subjected to violence from adults, often from their own parents.  

According to specialists’ grim predictions, “Children’s protection efforts lack leadership.”

 

 

 

“YOUR DAUGHTER’S BODY WILL TURN UP AT A CANAL”, DIANA MÍA’S STEPFATHER THREATENED HER MOTHER.

The five year old girl’s murder illustrates child abuse, in which parents are stepparents are the main perpetrators. “So? Gonna help me hide the body?,” Damián asked a friend. #ToKillOne’sChild

By Alejandra Crail (@AleCrail)

October 15, 2019

Emerging from a rubber, wire and concrete shroud Diana Mía’s “Stay Cool” printed sweater added macabre irony to the discovery made at Tulichek canal, in Baja California’s capital, north of Mexico. The typical gringo farewell expression that in Spanish means “chill”, “have a good one”.

Forensic experts found a 3 foot 7, 44 pounds body, long black hair, light brown skin. The investigative report detailed wounded hands and bruised legs. Plus two missing teeth. Diana Mía was five years old. The perpetrator was her stepfather.

Firefighters that went in the canal had a hard time retrieving the body, the neck and limbs were tied with electrical wire. It was tied to a sewage basin by the neck and a block of concrete by the feet, then wrapped in green tarpaulin and tied with tape.

The criminal, who turned out to be her stepfather, planned to sink the girl’s body. However, due to the receding water level the body rose to the surface shortly after being dumped. Neighbours saw it and called the police. The afternoon of June 22 2016 no one had reported her missing, not even her mother. 

Shortly after it was revealed Diana Mía had been dead 36 hours when they found her. Damián M., her stepfather had assaulted her on Sunday June 19 (Father’s Day) in collusion with her mother Diana Esmeralda. The assault lead to her death. She was five years old

The house where Diana spent the last month and a half of her life is twelve blocks from where the remains were found. According to investigative records it was there her stepfather got rid of the clothes that could incriminate him and send sms to his relatives, letting them know the girl had moved in with her biological father. 

1430 miles away in her birthplace, Morelia, Michoacán, her grandmother Esmeralda Bedolla Almanza read the news and was shocked: the body of an unidentified girl was found on a canal bank in Mexicali, Baja California, tied by the feet  from a block of concrete

Her world fell apart. One day before her daughter had texted her a disturbing message:

“Mom, Damián killed Cachito (Diana Mía’s nickname), help me. Whatever you do, don’t let Damián find out I told you. Please, I’m scared. Don’t text back.”

“If this is some kind of joke, it’s a sick joke” Doña Esmeralda recalls having thought.

Sadly, Diana Mía’s case isn’t uncommon in Mexico. According to figures provided by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), between 2012 and 2017 nearly 2,600 children under-fifteens old were murdered, 42 percent by family members, at home, or in domestic violence-related homicides.

EMEEQUIS created a homicide database out of death certificates processed by INEGI and was able to assess that parents and stepparents are the main perpetrators. According to a sample of 156 cases in which authorities identified family ties with the victims, 8 out of 10 times parents and stepparents are responsible for killing children between 0 and 14 years old. In a lesser degree these crimes are committed by aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings.

Your family can kill you

Diana Mía is one of a thousand children that have suffered the worst of being a child in Mexico. Being younger than 15 years old poses a risk: your family can kill you.

If they’re less than seven years old the risk is 59 percent higher. Young children less than a year old are deemed the most vulnerable. Diana Mía was killed by her stepfather. 

In very few of these cases authorities identify the agresor. Apart from the 156 cases signaled by EMEEQUIS through death certificates, the Prosecution was not able to identify the perpetrators, despite the characteristics of the crimes: strangled newborns, stabbed toddlers, deaths attributed to malnutrition, among others causes. 

2018 INEGI’S preliminary statistics on homicide rates support this: out of 433 homicides committed against children under-fifteens, authorities identified the aggressors only 18 cases, in 14 cases the homicides were committed by relatives. Perpetrators were mothers (5), fathers (4) and stepparents (1).

Diana Mía’s murder illustrates the deadly outcome of violence against children—physical assault, negligence, emotional abuse, sexual assault—largely committed by adult caregivers. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines violence against children as a public health issue that affects one fourth of the population in the world. For the Pan American Health Organization it’s a social disease that a billion children suffer each year.

According to specialists, although Mexico has laws to protect children’s rights, like the Children’s and Adolescent’s Rights Act (LGDNNA, 2014), violence persists, largely condoned by silent witnesses and negligent public servants and authorities.

“Violence against children is a hidden crime, although it happens at home, behind closed doors, it requires a silent accomplice,” says María Teresa Sotelo, pedagogue and founder of Fundación en Pantalla contra la Violencia Infantil (FUPAVI).  

Everybody ignored warnings

When the police captured Damian he told his love story to the district attorney. He met Diana Esmeralda shortly after watching the film Batman vs Superman. He knew right then he wanted a “Wonder Woman”. So the day he went to a local store to buy a soft drink and learned the cashier was named like the film’s heroine he asked her out.

When the couple was held under custody psychologists interview them to assess their personalities. Diana is a serious woman, shy and submissive. Damián is an extrovert, charismatic, likes to be center stage. 

He had two months’ worth of work left in Morelia, Michoacán. The 23 year old fell in love again after a failed marriage, sneaked her daughter out from her family’s home and took a 27 hour long bus ride to the US border, her mother recalls. She arrived with her four year old at Mexicali, Damián’s birthplace.

On may 6 2016 Diana texted her mom to let her know she was in Mexicali, where she would start a new life with Damián and her little girl, “Cache” o “Cachito”.

“Everything was peaches and cream, there were no fights, no problems, nothing”, months later Damián would tell a psychologist about the beginning of his relationship. He was being interviewed in prison—at Pasadina’s Centro de Reinserción Social (CERESO)—by the Human Rights Comission to assess his mental health. 

Damián and both Dianas moved to Lumbreras street, Lomas Altas, a few blocks away from Tulichek canal. It was a council estate with cream colored buildings, few neighbours and vacant houses which are now refuges to immigrants or picaderos [shooters], where drug addicts shoot up. 

Their relationship soon deteriorated. Damián had little patience with Diana Mía. He was a frequent mariguana, alcohol, and methamphetamines user. He started insulting and threatening Diana’s relatives over the phone. According to Diana Mía’s maternal grandmother, the young girl was spoiled by her family, they had set no boundaries and enjoyed her playfulness. “Spank her, scold her,” Damián asked Diana. But when growing up she was exposed to domestic violence, and refused to do so.

A couple of weeks later a threat sparked a red alert. 

“You and your daughter will turn up dead at a canal,” he threatened her after a jealous rage.

She was afraid and asked her mother for help, who tried to alert her family. Everyone ignored warnings.

Diana Mía’s maternal grandmother lived in a different state. She asked the authorities for help but they ignored the threats. “They’re just words,” a public servant stated. Even if her relatives were in danger, the authorities couldn’t do anything because they were far from Mexicali. Even if they could they wouldn’t do anything, the police report must be filed by either the child’s mother or father, he added.

Article 226 of the National Code of Penal Procedure (CNPP) states that when dealing with crimes against children younger than 18 years old, their tutors must file a police report. However, if the crime is committed by their caregivers a third party—in this case Diana Mía’s grandmother—can report it to the police. Whether the case fell outside of the district attorney’s jurisdiction, article 75 of the CNPP states that the district attorney’s office can defer the case to the appropriate administrative agency “by any means of communication, swiftly and safely to guarantee its authenticity.”

Esmeralda warned Diana Mía’s father, Miguel Ángel Campuzano Ramírez. “Get the girl, Damián isn’t capable of taking care of children. He believes solely in scolding and punishment.” He promised to do it within a month.

All threats, texts, and cries for help are now part of a rape and feminicide case’s investigative report, as set out in Baja California’s Penal Code. 

According to specialists if warnings weren’t disregarded, they would save lives. Like in Diana Mía’s case. “If authorities intervened, it’d be very likely to stop violence,” says Juan Martín Pérez, Children’s Right Mexican Network Red (REDIM) director. “There are always violent acts that aren’t dealt with, detected or acknowledged by authorities. Domestic violence happens at home, hence it’s private.”

Within a few days the threat against Diana Mía’s life would become a reality.

Under-sevens: high vulnerability 

Diana Mía was doomed by statistics in less than two months. At her age she was highly vulnerable. 59 percent of children murdered by a relative or in domestic violence-related homicides are under seven years of age.

She moved from Morelia to Mexicali, one out of 15 cities were more child abuse cases results in death. We identified 11 cases in 5 years.

Arturo Loredo Abdalá, M.D., specialises in child abuse at National Pediatric Institute (INP), says if children weren’t planned they are at risk before being born. After being born they’re at heightened risk if their sex or skin color isn’t satisfactory to parents. “If they aren’t up to their parents’ expectations, it's more likely they’ll be abused.”

Analysis of these data support that at least 204 children younger than a year old were murdered as a result of abuse between 2012 and 2017. As they get older the risk doesn’t disappear it changes. “Younger children are more vulnerable to physical violence, children between six and eight are vulnerable to sexual violence. All children are susceptible to psychological abuse, negligence and maltreatment,” says Advanced Studies on Child Abuse and Prevention Center’s director at INP.

According to Diana Mía’s maternal grandmother she was a playful child who demanded attention. Children like her are more prone to domestic violence, especially if their caregivers have low frustration tolerance. 

WHO states “risk factors of violence against children are age: under-fours and adolescents; they’re the product of unintended pregnancies; if they aren’t up to their parents’ expectations; they cry a lot or are disabled.” 

WHO poses drug and alcohol use by parents as a risk factor, financial problems (Damián wasn’t formally employed, he earned around 300 dollars per month; Diana was not employed), and having a criminal record (the accused had already being charged of robbery and had been shot). 

There are other risk factors in Diana Mía’s criminal case: the lack of effective public policies to prevent violence against children and the normalisation of physical punishment as an education tool. 

Kept promise

Mom, Damián killed Cachito, help me.” Esmeralda read this SMS on June 21 2016. She yelled, and nearly passed out.

On June 22, she went back to the district attorney’s office to ask for help. Once again was told there was no crime to prosecute, it was merely an SMS. If the crime had taken place they’d have to go to the state where it did.

At the same time, in Mexicali a man confessed that he helped dispose of a body in a canal. His name is Raúl, Damián’s high-school friend.

In a statement that is now part of the case’s investigative report—to which EMEEQUIS had access—he claims Damián asked him over his place, cut his hair and tattooed a rose in his left hand. He met Diana once. He didn’t see Diana Mía alive. After a couple of beers, Damián confessed he was tired of his wife’s daughter, she was too restless: she burnt a tattoo machine, spilled food, vomited in his car and peed the bed. He hated putting up with a child who wasn’t his. “She’s locked up,” he claimed.

“I told him not to be a dick, it was too hot,” Raúl told the officer taking his statement. Afterwards Damián confessed he’d beaten her up two days before, had left her unconscious before going to bed and found her dead the next morning.

“So? Gonna help me hide the body?” Raúl went in the bedroom with no air conditioner and made out a bundle. Damián carried it from one side, Raúl from the other. They put her in a green Honda Civic’s trunk. They started the car and didn’t go very far. They threw the body to the Tulichek canal, a few streets away, where it meets Gobernador street.

“I thought he was joking, he’s always making weird stories up,” he told the district attorney’s office.

The body laid at the house for three days.

Diana Mía was lying on the floor, half-naked. Her forehead had a lump and her body had feces. “Damián, Damián,” Diana cried. She found her when she came back home on June 19 2016. They had consumed alcohol and had a fight. “Your daughter doesn’t want us to be together,” he had complained during the fight. He was then left alone with the child. 

“What did you do to her,” she asked. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t rape her. Maybe someone broke in or it was you,” he answered.

The violence-related injuries inflicted against her were revealed as time went by: bruises, scratches, trauma. She stopped crying, talking, and eating. She hardly breathed. She lost strength, her mother told her family.

During the proceedings on June 25, 2016 presided by judge Luciano Angulo Espinoza, at Room 4 of Mexicali Court of Law, the atrocities suffered by Diana Mía were detailed. She was raped and beaten to death in front of her mother. The cause of death was traumatic brain injury.

The accused and Diana Mía’s biological father anxiously listened to the proceedings. The girl died on June 18, between Saturday night and early Sunday morning. She was thrown into the canal three days later, early Wednesday morning.

After the homicide Diana was isolated, she could barely SMS her mother to ask for help. Damián tried to erase every trace of the girl in social media. Then he texted an old friend, asked him over for a beer and to help him get rid of the body.

Damián’s mother lived a few blocks away. Early Wednesday morning, on June 22 she got a message from Diana’s Facebook saying the girl was now in Tijuana with her biological father.

Diana Mía’s death certificate was issued one day after her body was found. Authorities determined the cause of death was unknown—they didn’t wait for the autopsy’s results which two days later revealed it was a head traumatism—she had died on the street, and the perpetrator was unknown. 

If it weren’t for the news story Diana’s family in Morelia read after her mother received the SMS the girl’s homicide would have gone unpunished. Her stepfather’s friend wouldn’t have testified. Damián wouldn’t be facing a rape and feminicide case, nor Diana be charged as an accomplice.

She’d be in elementary school…

Between 2012 and 2017 authorities determined 27 children died as a result of physical or sexual abuse in hands of their stepfather. Diana Mía’s homicide isn’t registered as such.

Research shows mothers have perpetrated 45 crimes, whereas fathers 51. Uncles come in fourth place, mainly assaulting girls.

Violence against children knows no gender, social or economic boundaries. “Violence against children concerns us all,” says Loredo Abdalá. He’s confirmed the results of his studies through field work: violence is perpetrated by parents or other caregivers, largely men: stepparents, grandparents and uncles. Women are more prone to physical violence while men to sexual violence

The adult’s age is key: younger caregivers are more prone to violence. “Adults between 20 and 25 yeras old have low frustration tolerance which can lead to bad scenarios,” he says.

According to Teresa Sotelo, former manager at Fundación en Pantalla Contra la Violencia Infantil (FUPAVI), “when children are unwelcomed and unloved at home they’re doomed.” If their parents or caregivers lose control, it can be fatal. However, violence against children can be prevented.

Before Diana Mía’s homicide her family and authorities ignored many red alerts. Like constant beatings and actual threats: “You and your daughter will turn up dead at a canal.” Her maternal grandmother’s appeal to her biological father and the public servant. Pictures of the physical abuse she was subject to. The girl would be 8 now and in elementary school.

Esmeralda Bedolla Almanza urges people to prevent violence against children: “Don’t disregard warning signs, as insignificant as they may seem.”

She comes to this conclusion after many regrets: “If the neighbours witnessed something, they should’ve said something. If authorities would have acted. If we would have listened. If any of this would have happened, Diana Mía would’ve turned 5.” Diana Mía wouldn’t be buried in a cemetery in Morelia, where her tombstone reads in gold: “Your death leaves our hearts and lives empty, my Cache.”

 


LANDON DIED OF MALNUTRITION AFTER HIS FAMILY ABANDONED HIM

The eight year old boy wandered to and from relatives’ homes until he died from undernutrition. His death certificate reveals the result of his death was neglect.  #ToKillOne’sChild

By Alejandra Crail

October 16 2019

A man carried an emaciated child into eastern Saltillo’s Fire Department, in Coahuila, north of Mexico. Landon’s state of malnutrition contrasted with the man’s stockiness—who claimed to be his father. It was a matter of life and death, the child was dying.

Firefighters and paramedics thought the child was disabled. 23 year-old Jacinto Á. claimed his son choked on his own vomit after eating some broth. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him but it was too late.

Later on a disturbing account of his death went viral. International tabloids reported Landon Yahir’s parents made him eat his own feces which caused vomiting and aspiration pneumonia that led to his death. However, Everardo Lazo Chapa, from Chihuahua’s district attorney’s office refuted the account. The autopsy revealed aspiration pneumonia as the cause of his death. He stated Landon Yahir’s body showed signs of physical abuse and malnutrition. 

The taxi driver that drove Jacinto and Landon from Misión San Agustín street to the Fire Department—a 10 minute ride—recalls Jacinto begged the boy he held against his chest, “I’m sorry darling, please don’t go,” but he had stopped breathing.

On October 25 2018 local media reported that a disabled 8 year old boy was dead upon arriving at the Fire Department at 11 that morning. Presumably he fell and hit his head. 

The account changed afterwards. Paramedics called Coahuila’s Child Protective Services (Procuraduría para Niños, Niñas y la Familia, Pronnif) because they identified bruises in Landon’s body, as well as signs of malnutrition.

The corpse of the big eyed boy with curled lashes ended at an autopsy table at the Forensic Unit, in Satélite neighbourhood.

This is the story of a boy who died as a result of neglect by his family. A homicide case among hundreds in the country where authorities can’t find the culprits. Landon died of malnutrition.

In Mexico every year hundreds of children die stabbed, abused, or due to neglect. EMEEQUIS analysed death certificates processed by INEGI and was able to assess that 4 out of 10 homicides against children under 15 years of age happen at home.


Landon wandered from home to home.


Murdered by your father

Like Landon, 27 percent of Mexico’s population is highly vulnerable at home. Many survive and bear the consequences of physical and psychological abuse, while others don’t live to tell their story.

EMEEQUIS homicide database shows every other day a child younger than 15 years old dies at the hands of a close relative, at home or in violence-related crimes

Statistics show violence against children can result in death. The Battered Child Syndrome (identified by doctor Henry Kempe during the sixties)—more recently defined as violence against children—includes all acts of deliberate violence against a child, whether perpetrated by parents, stepparents, relatives or other caregivers. It involves physical, emotional or psychological violence. 

EMEEQUIS learned how families murdered their children. Types of abuse vary according to age and gender. Younger children are more vulnerable. Two undeniable facts: 36 percent of  homicides involved a firearm and 26 percent of cases go unsolved.

Firearm homicides

In 2016 rates of violence against children which resulted in firearm deaths at the hands of parents peaked. It became the main cause of death. By 2014 the total number of firearm deaths among children younger than 15 reached 103, the aggressors were acquaintances. By 2016 the number of victims reached 198, a 48 percent increase. A higher increase than the national firearm homicide rate, which increased nearly 20 percent.

The Secretary of Defense has encouraged voluntary disarmament nationwide while Mexico City’s administration has launched "For your Family, Voluntary Disarmament" programme, which aims to reduce gun violence by exchanging weapons for economic assistance.

Children between 12 and 14 years old are more prone to die from firearm-related deaths. There are few exceptions to the general pattern. In 2016 an eight month old child was shot to death by his father at home in Chimalhuacán, State of Mexico. Many cases of children fatally shot in their home go unsolved.

Like Landon, there are children who have been murdered under unknown circumstances. Authorities were unable to establish neglect as the cause of death despite evidence of severe malnutrition and bruises. According to Advanced Studies on Child Abuse and Prevention Center’s director: “Physical and neurological evidence suggests aspiration pneumonia led to his death. Authorities did not attribute his death to abuse and neglect.”

FUPAVI’s María Teresa Sotelo claims under-registration of children’s deaths.

“Authorities establish viral gastroenteritis as the cause of death but don’t determine how and what caused it despite evidence of negligence. Children death rates increase during the weekend, when parents are home, age patterns and place of death can help determine the cause of death regardless of parents claims.” 

EMEEQUIS found abuse and negligence as consistent modus operandi among children’s homicides. Every year 20 children’s deaths are proven as a result of negligence and abuse. Landon is not even a statistic. 

To kill one’s child

Jacinto Á. was 14 years old when his first son was born. Her sister “María Elena”—to protect her identity—still remembers his happiness. She proudly recalls she was the first to carry the newborn son. 

During the first few months when the baby’s mother was still around he “was loved.” Before he turned one, his parents got divorced. “From then on life got hard,” she claims. Landon was entirely under Jacinto’s care, who left him in his mother and sister’s care. He crossed Saltillo’s border each day to work as a butcher in Monterrey.

Jacinto’s siblings remember when the teenager father got back from work: “I’m home darling, how was your day? Where they good to you? Did you eat?,” he’d ask his son. When the child turned four Jacinto got involved with Olga M. who had a young daughter herself. They moved in together and took the baby away from his mother and sister’s care. His life turned to worse. 

Loving care turned into beatings and verbal abuse. Landon wandered from home to home: from his maternal grandfather’s to his paternal grandmother’s, María Elena’s and back to Jacinto’s. Come 2016 Jacinto moved his new family to Santa Cristina neighbourhood, a few miles away from his old home. It was then that Landon's uncles suspected he was experiencing violence.

They noticed he was sent to school without lunch even though his stepsister made it for him. At Cristobal Colón school it was well-known he ate other children’s food. He was hungry. When teachers brought it out to his father he took offense. He knew how to raise his son, he claimed. 

Shortly after Landon went back to his aunt’s house. He was seven.

“We took him to the pediatrician because he was very skinny but bloated, like African children. His stepmother claimed a doctor had told her not to feed him excessively. However, the pediatrician told us he showed signs of undernutrition. He suggested we started feeding him small portions of food, he was clearly not used to eating regularly,” María Elena recalls. 

He started putting on weight. His legs, arms, and face looked plumper. His height increased. Though his family is tall he had low height for his age. The kid regained confidence. He would no longer get scared if someone raised his voice or lower down if someone raised his hand. He confessed his dad beat him for things he didn’t do, like insulting his caregiver. He had to ask his stepmother for food, she didn’t feed him regularly. His three siblings got treats and toys but he didn’t.

“My last memory of him was during my birthday. He gave me a small penguin. Before going to school he sang happy birthday. He told me he loved me and thanked me for my love and care,” says María Elena.

On november 3, 2017, one day before his Dragon Ball themed eight birthday party, Jacinto took him away. “He took him away even though I told him he would get in trouble. Neither us nor authorities would do anything about it, he bragged,” Landon’s maternal grandfather—Juan Villalobos—recalled one year later. When his father’s family learned of the child’s abduction they went to Saltillo’s police department to ask for help and get the boy back.

“Why do you want to take the boy away from his father?,” the officer asked. They feared for his life. She asked for evidence of violence against the child under his father’s care. She refused to file a report. They went to Jacinto’s house to reclaim Landon. “He is my son and he’s staying with me,” he said. That’s the last time they saw Landon alive.

31 pounds

A small body stands out from a cold autopsy table at the Forensic Unit. It’s a severely emaciated boy. It’s a severely emaciated boy. The skin is stuck to his bones: his ribs, collar bone and cheekbones stand out from afar. His last day alive he was 31 pounds, 60 percent less than the average weight of an eight year old Mexican boy. His family let him starve to death.

“Yes, he showed severe signs of undernutrition and acute bruises. His little cheek showed the most visible bruise, the most recent one. He looked like a baby wearing a diaper. Many people were shocked when they saw him inside the coffin. I can’t digest how he died. I can’t believe my brother did that to him,” María Elena claims weeks after the child’s death.

The pathologist detailed previous to his death the child was not able to walk or go to the bathroom by himself, he wore a diaper and his severe acute undernutrition made him more vulnerable to death. His aunt nearly fainted at hearing this. “Not even dogs deserve to be treated like this,” she overheard the officer in charge of the case exclaim. 

According to UNICEF a child with severe acute undernutrition has low weight-for-height, “is particular much more vulnerable to disease and death and in need of urgent treatment.”

Landon, the big eyed boy with curled lashes didn’t get medical attention on time. The autopsy revealed aspiration pneumonia led to his death: he choked on his own vomit.

Everardo Lazo Chapa, from Chihuahua’s district attorney’s office told EMEEQUIS despite injuries and visible undernutrition the police investigation did not identify signs of violence

“ The cause of his death was an unprovoked aspiration pneumonia. Hence, it was a natural death.” 

Anonymous officers from the district attorney’s office confirmed an on-going investigation pointed towards Landon’s father as the main suspect. However, they didn’t know how to hold him responsible for the child’s poor health. They focused on the autopsy’s report (aspiration pneumonia, natural death). The case remained open due to the attention it got from the media, but in a couple of weeks it’d be closed.*

*EMEEQUIS contacted Chihuahua’s district attorney’s office for an update. As this edition went to press they hadn’t responded. Landon’s family claims the case is closed, death ruled natural causes. 

**Landon’s picture is reproduced with authorisation from his family in an effort to raise awareness on the problem.

 

 


 

PALOMA STRANGLED HER TWO DAUGHTERS UNDER THE EFFECTS OF PILLS

“Go to sleep. Sh, sh, sh.” Paloma narrates her tragedy from jail. According to specialists, most filicides were subjected to violence. #ToKillOne’sChild

By Alejandra Crail

October 17 2019

“Go to sleep. Sh, sh, sh. Go to sleep, go to sleep,” Paloma lulled her young daughter to sleep. The two year-three months old stopped crying. She lulled her five month old. “Go to sleep. Sh, sh, sh. Go to sleep, go to sleep,” she whispered to her ear.

Finally the girls were quiet. They had fallen asleep permanently. Paloma felt groggy. She took the rest of the pills from her medicine cabinet. It was November 12 2008 and she wanted to die.

I kept taking the pills. I didn’t stop taking them, I didn’t even know what the hell they were for, if they’d provoke diarrhea or constipation,” Paloma tells EMEEQUIS, she’s seated under a concrete kiosk with her elbows on top of one of the tables at Santa Martha Acatitla prison yard, eastern Mexico City.

She woke up the next day. “I realised I hadn’t died, I was just groggy. I left, I just left the house. I didn’t know if I wanted to go, get a job, send mom some money for the girls or jump from a bridge or on the metro tracks.”

She wandered for hours. She reached downtown and cried herself into a temporary job at a pastry shop. One week later she called home to ask about the girls, and tell her mom she’d send her first week’s salary for the girls.

Her sister picked up the phone.

—What’s going on? —she asked.

—About what? How are they? —Paloma answered.

The girls are dead. What happened? —she yelled back.

—I don’t know. They were asleep when I left.

—The girls are dead! Don’t come back here. Go, just go, don’t ever come back.

Paloma thought it was a joke, her family was upset because she abandoned the girls. “It’s ok. I’m going to work and send money.” That’s what she did, weeks later she called home again. Her brother picked up the phone.

“They’re dead,” he told her after she insisted on sending them money.

“I blamed myself so, so much. “I rather they slept so they wouldn’t ask for food, for anything. I didn’t realise,” the chubby cheeked woman cries. She’s serving a 55 year sentence in prison for having murdered both her daughters. On January 29, 2011she was found guilty of manslaughter.

In Mexico, up to 10 percent of children—close to three million—can experience violence. Only one out of 100 victims—32,000 nationwide—will receive proper treatment. 

According to figures released by the Advanced Studies on Child Abuse and Prevention Center, between 55 and 85 percent of victims of violence grow up, have children of their own and are at heightened risk for later perpetrating violence. Paloma is a statistic.

We are all capable of being abusers

Paloma was born in San Salvador Cuauhtenco, a peripheral urban area between Milpa Alta hills, south Mexico City. Despite the passage of time the area keeps its charming landscape from her childhood: small gray houses, apart from each other, agricultural land, few cars and dirt roads.

She was born in the midst of a family tragedy. Her parents had lost a one year old to neumonia. Both were sixteen years old and had no healthcare. Doctors were far from home. Paloma’s birth was infused with death, it was no happy moment. She grew up in the midst of mourning, she became antisocial.

At six years old she got run over by a truck, the accident immobilized for months. She quit school. Her parents left her newborn sister under her care while she was still postrated in bed. 

“I held my baby sister with one hand and her bottles with the other. When my parents left for work I fed her, changed her diaper. I raised my siblings.”

She daydreamt about her mother coming home to hug her or her father coming home to play with her. She looked forward to the weekends. As a child she thought that’s when parents spent time with their children. It wasn’t the case.

She spent the whole week cleaning the house, taking care of her siblings and dealing with her parents demands. She imagined having loving parents but she frequently witnessed physical or verbal abuse between them.

At twelve she attended the fifth grade. Teachers called her “slow”, she had mediocre notes and engaged in physical fights with her classmates. She wrote her first suicide note.

“I said goodbye to my family. I wanted to jump from a bridge, from a car, I don’t know. I carried the letter in my backpack, that’s where they found it.” Paloma thought her parents would take interest in her, it wasn’t the case. “They sent me to my grandparent’s house. The truth is my grandma had injured her arm and I took care of her. I never received any help.”

Violence against children is hereditary

According to WHO violence against children is a public health matter with lifelong consequences on the victim’s health and emotional well being, with an impact on families and communities. Experts suggest violence in the home is cyclical. Survivors endure lifelong consequences: they are at greater risk for perpetrating violence or committing a crime later in life.

 Doctor Arturo Loredo Abdalá states perpetrators are usually victims of violence during childhood. The Childhood Observatory of Spain has identified other important risk factors: exposure to violence among parents, poor emotional bonding between parents and children, separation or divorce, young parenting, high stress levels. However, all organisations agree on a shocking fact: we are all capable of being abusers.

Paloma’s dysfunctional family background led her to meet a boy in high-school. She got pregnant but had a miscarriage three months later. “I was very excited. I thought I’d finally have a family,” she recalls. She didn’t want to try getting pregnant again and her partner rejected her. Two years after they separated.

When she was 21, she met an 18 year old. He promised they would build a life together and she believed in him. She got pregnant with María. She wanted to share the news with him but found him with another woman. She became a single mother. She had to raise the baby on her own, without her partner or her family’s support. Many Mexican women face similar situations. She pinpoints the cause of her impotence and anger to this fact.

“I did hit my girl. I lost my patience when she cried or asked for things. At the same time I didn’t want her to go through what I went through with my parents. Realising I was repeating the same pattern was shocking.”

From victim to aggressor

Poverty forced her to look for work anywhere. She came across a guardhouse at a gated community close to where she lived. The 40 year old sentry offer her a job as a security guard. She said yes. The first two weeks were uneventful. The man paid her on time but he posed questions that made her feel uncomfortable: whether her husband got mad if she was out late, whether she was a single mother, did her family keep an eye on her. Classic behaviour. 

After the third week worth of work, on payday, the man went in the guardhouse and closed the door behind him.

—Why do you close the door? —Paloma asked.

—Do you want to get paid? —he answered while he got closer.

—I’m so glad you’re here. I want to do some grocery shopping for my girl.

—Do you want to get paid? I will pay you but first you have to be with me —and he jumped on her.

When Paloma recalls the scene she covers her face, tears go down through her fingers.

“I used to think: Why do women don’t yell, kick and scream when they’re being raped? Why do they go numb? That’s right, you go numb. I froze, I couldn’t say a word or scream, anything. When he finished I stormed out. I wanted to disappear. I never went back.”

Months later she realised she became pregnant after being raped. She went to her nearest clinic to have an abortion, but she was asked to pay for an ultrasound and bloodtests to see if she could have an abortion.

“I had no money to feed my child, let alone to pay for those tests,” she recalls. She managed to pay for the tests but it was too late.

She was depressed during her pregnancy, she told her family the father had gone to the United States. “You’re such an idiot. I didn’t want you to marry so young. Men think you’re easy,” her mother responded when she told her the news.

Baby Lucía was born one July afternoon at the same house Paloma grew up in. One day she suddenly was unable to move. When a neighbour peaked in to inquire after all the screaming, she saw the baby was halfway born. “Push, push,” she yelled. Paloma gave birth reluctantly to her baby girl.

“I didn’t hold her. I rejected her. I didn’t want her. I resented her. Afterwards I realised it wasn’t her fault,” she says crying. Tears go down her rosy cheeks.

Prevention falls short

FUPAVI’S María Teresa Sotelo conducted a study at an obstetrics and gynaecology hospital and prisons that revealed “nearly 90 percent of filicides and violent mothers had an unwanted pregnancy without establishing emotional bonds with the baby.” However, it’s not the only risk factor when committing a crime. Depression or other untreated or misdiagnosed mental health problems, unemployment, lack of a support net also play a role.

According to INEGI in Mexico, depression is a leading cause of disability among women, nearly 60 percent of the population affected by depression are women. The Department of Health has established that gender is a risk factor in depression due to traditional social roles of women and sexual violence many of them have experienced since childhood. 

Sotelo claims despite the grim outlook, doctors, nurses and social workers can diagnose depression on time. Guide mothers, fathers and caregivers to establish proper emotional bonds with newborns. Most importantly, addressing risk factors such as unemployment, violence between parents or caregivers, addictions, reintegration of ex-offenders into society, among others.

According to Leonardo Mier, child protection officer for UNICEF México, prevention needs institutional strategies that provide parental support and change the concept that children are their parents’ property. Regrettably, “we don’t have an institution in charge of preventing domestic violence, providing parental training, detecting families at risk, or supporting children victims of violence or neglect”. Hence this weighty problem takes lives. 

Paloma had no support net: neither her family nor authorities offered any support. She’s never heard of a state-run programme that guided her through desperate times. Which is why five months after her second child was born she overdosed on pills: she wanted to die.

She still remembers having lulled her two girls to sleep to stop them from crying. She doesn’t recall having held them against her so forcefully, she suffocated them. According to forensic pathologists they died of suffocation. Coroner’s report showed unfamiliar terminology: “Death by asphyxiation by obstruction of breathing.” Which means she covered their nose and mouth until they stopped breathing.

According to officers who made her arrest nearly two years after the homicide (April 21 2010), Paloma had written a letter: “Dear mom, when you read this me and my girls will be dead, thanks to you my dear and loving mother, I always hated you because you never had time for me or my problems,” Paloma doesn’t remember that letter either.

 

 

GIRLS AND BOYS: FORGOTTEN BY POLICY-MAKERS DESPITE HIGH RATES OF ABUSE

Decision-makers don’t develop successful child maltreatment prevention programmes, Congress is numb and indifferent. National budgets are insufficient. Experts analyse #ToKillOne’sChild series.

By Alejandra Crail

October 18 2019

Despite the fact that the Constitution and international laws guarantee children’s and adolescent’s protection, they’re often subjected to violence from adults, often from their own parents. 

According to specialists’ grim predictions, “Children’s protection efforts lack leadership.”

Child protection isn’t an effective political tool hence it’s undervalued, claims another specialist. For UNICEF keeping children safe has a long-term impact. If policy makers were educated on violence against children maybe they’d revise their budgets. 

Budget figures reflect a grim reality. Former president Enrique Peña Nieto invested 3.8 million dollars in child maltreatment during his six-year administration, three times less than the price of the presidential airplane (219 million dollars).

His administration spent .23 cents per child through the Department of Health, the Department of State and the National Human Rights Commission. A lower investment than recommended by the Department of Family Welfare to protect children from domestic violence, sexual assault and neglect. By UNICEF standards an annual investment of 132 million dollars is needed to protect children from maltreatment, who constitute 30 percent of the population—that is 796 million dollars in a six-year administration. 

If the former administration had invested correctly in child protective policies it would have allocated 3.5 dollars per child each year (or 3 dollars by UNICEF standards). Despite evidence that proves every other day a child dies in the hands of its parents or caregivers, subject to domestic violence, Peña Nieto’s administration invested only 7 percent of UNICEF’s recommended amount.

The Federal Government of Mexico lacks effective programmes to prevent and address child maltreatment. Congress has little interest in strengthening laws to protect children (created since 2014). The IRS has no assigned budget for preventing violence. Other states have no policy and programme measures. The National Pediatric Institute estimates violence against children affects 10 percent of the population resulting in thousands of deaths.

A man killed his eight year old son in his sleep by hitting his head with a rock. A mother beat her one year old with Down Syndrome to death. A man threw her three year old stepdaughter to a pool and watched her die. These cases were covered by the media.

The stories replicate throughout the country. In Zacatecas a mother shot her son with a mix of thinner and poison, in Oaxaca a man raped his stepson so many times it resulted in his death, in Yucatán a man killed his three children with a hammer.

Despite the grim panorama policy makers have no measures to prevent nor address child abuse much less to prevent violence to result in death.

Lack of political and economic policies

According to the National Survey of Health and Nutrition conducted in 2016 by Department of Health, at least 1,048 million children and adolescents are victims of violence and are at risk of death.

“Violence against children has no political or economic relevance,” says Ricardo Bucio, director at the Administration for Children and Adolescents (SIPINNA).

The current administration hasn’t showed interest either. Current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador decreased budgets of the Administration for Children and Adolescents and National Human Rights Commission and allocated nearly 53,000 dollars to the Department of Family Welfare. This means a 4 percent reduction in budget to address violence against children.

By UNICEF estimates if authorities prevented or decreased the impact of child maltreatment even by 30 percent, annual investment would have a more than 200 percent return, greater than any infrastructure project in the country.

The new airport will cost more than 41 times the minimal budget UNICEF suggests allocating to prevent child maltreatment. The 2019 budget directed to protect children is only 6.2 percent of the amount UNICEF suggests investing annually. 

The cases reported by EMEEQUIS prove the indifference shown by the three branches of government has deadly consequences for children. From failing to acknowledge a cry for help in Landon’s case, to indifference and lack of coordination among authorities in Diana Mía’s to systemic violation of a girl’s rights—later turned child mother and murderess—in Paloma’s case. 

This lack of effective action is not incidental. The country has no institution with autonomy, budget and ability to address child maltreatment, despite advances in legislation. The Children’s and Adolescent’s Rights Act (LGDNNA) passed in 2014 which recognises children’s rights and the duty of the State to safeguard their lives with dignity. Despite enactment into law the problem of child maltreatment hasn’t received enough attention.

Public servants in the three branches of government justify the State’s lack of interest in children's well-being as a result of lack of budget, personnel and autonomy, as well as the fact that they’re not obliged by law—rather invited—to take action.

“Historically, authorities are not interested in children because they have no right to vote, voters are typically the aggressors: parents or caregivers,” says Ariel Maldonado, 2018 presidency candidate for the Children and Adolescent Protection Office in the Department of Family Welfare. The lawyer specialised in sexual violence survivors didn’t get the post, he was accused of kidnap, acquitted in 2008.

Taking responsability

A three year old girl arrived at Legaria Pediatric Hospital in Mexico City, she had a serious head injury and a charred right hand. The mother claimed it was an accident, the TV monitor had fallen on top of her, as a result, a short circuit burned her hand. 

Doctors called an officer, they found no connection between the mother’s claims and the child’s injuries. He determined no signs of abuse and the child went back home with her mother. She was back 15 days later with new injures. She didn’t survive.

FUPAVI’S María Teresa Sotelo tells her story. FUPAVI was one of the few organisations which addressed child maltreatment and pushed for legislation. It is now inactive for lack of state funds. The girl’s story reflects the lack of interest and education among authorities result in death. Her career spans 20 years. She realised the Federal Expenditure Budget didn’t allocate resources to prevent violence against children, neither in health policy nor law enforcement. Things haven’t changed.

“Childhood is a barren topic, highly vulnerable. No one intervenes, there are no budgets, no programmes, no models. It lacks leadership.”

EMEEQUIS reviewed the Secretariat of Welfare’s programmes and found: “Retirement pension”, “3x1 for Immigrants”, “Agricultural Laborer’s Support”, but none targeted for children. The Department of Family Welfare (DIF) is an assistentialist institution which supports vulnerable populations: single mothers, the elderly, the disabled, but they are unable to directly address child maltreatment. EMEEQUIS only found in 2014 they held a conference on violence to analyse prevention and eradication of violence against children and adolescents. The Department of Health’s National Children’s Protection Program 2014-2018 didn’t consider preventing violence. This administration’s programme hasn’t been published.

Insufficient budget

The law states the three branches of government must lead child maltreatment prevention and control efforts. But they allege a lack of autonomy and limited budget hampers those efforts. SIPINNA’s budget comes from the Department of State, it should protect children’s rights, but in the course of three years it was allocated only 7,790,384 dollars, 0.2 percent of former governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte’s embezzlement. Nine out of 10 dollars it received were directed to paying salaries.

“Our budget falls short. We can’t have a proper statistic system, support district attorney’s offices, or design public policies to protect children,” says SIPINNA director Ricardo Bucio.

The Children and Adolescent Protection Office (PFPNNA) is obliged to legally defend children who have suffered violations of their rights. The former administration allocated a 4,928,721 dollar budget, the current administration increased it by 53,000 dollars. Similarly, the Human Rights Commission's budget decreased from 689,000 dollars to 371,000.

Rosalba Valencia (Morena, Veracruz), Children and Adolescent Rights Commission at the lower house of Congress states, “unfortunately, the country’s bad economy has an impact on everything.”

When asked if the Commission she presides has designed a bill to combat child maltreatment through increased budgets, she said no. Last October the lower house of Congress passed a ruling which incorporates the concept of violence against children in the Children’s and Adolescent’s Rights Act. “All forms of physical, mental, or sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment or explotation.” PAN’s Martha Elisa González Estrada was responsible for the proposal and will now go to the upper house of Congress. However, this amendment does not guarantee the problem will be properly addressed.

María de los Ángeles Gutiérrez Valdez, another PAN member, proposed amending article 423 of the Federal Civil Code to ban corporal punishment. The bill hasn’t been passed.

Access to justice is ignored

Most child homicides perpetrated by parents happen in the State of Mexico. In 2015 district attorney’s offices designed departments specialised in child protection. Coroner Kenya N. states “personnel always falls short.” They have identified a lack of prevention systems. Meanwhile, the country fights against all odds to address social and health impact of child maltreatment.

Everyday she sees undernourished and anxious children or suffering from sexually transmitted diseases: HIV, papiloma virus, hepatitis. 

“Some children experience chronic maltreatment and die as a result, others die after a single episode of violence. Violence has long-term physical, psychological, and sexual consequences,” the coroner claims.

In Mexico the judicial system hasn’t adapted its procedures to provide justice suitable for children who have suffered violence. There is no institution that can properly represent and protect children whose rights have been violated, says child protection officer for UNICEF México. When a homicide victim is a minor justice is non-existent. 

Current legislation assigns that responsibility to the Children and Adolescent Protection Office throughout the country. However, the PFPNNA is not an autonomous institution, it only acts if requested by another department. 

After an information request, EMEEQUIS learned that between 2016 and the first half of 2018 the Protection Office received 857 child maltreatment reports from all over the country. However, despite the law they transfer the cases to local departments of Family Welfare (DIF), they in turn notify the district attorney if necessary. “Each state has the autonomy to pass laws according to local conditions.”

When interviewed PFPNNA president Martha Yolanda López Bravo denied having maltreatment reports for the first half of 2018. She said it wasn’t her job to coordinate protection strategies with authorities in cases of domestic violence against children, despite the law

We don’t issue protective measures for children who may be subjected to violence. That’s the district attorney’s job —she claimed.

—Is your administration interested in investigating cases of violence against children? 

—We can’t. We simply can’t investigate cases of child maltreatment.

—Why not?

—We don’t have that authority.

Morena’s legislative agenda includes pushing an amendment to grant autonomy to the Children and Adolescent Protection Office. On October 2018,  Morena’s representative at the lower house of Congress Marco Antonio González Reyes, proposed legislation. However, on February 2019, he withdrew it before consideration for lack of budget. Presumably, he’ll put it under consideration again this year.

Lawmakers from the Children's Rights Commission agree that politicians don’t prioritize the debate nor granting the Protection Office autonomy because the country can’t guarantee its proper operation.

“Regrettable, the Protection Office was focused on giving away basic food baskets and rescue efforts, instead of monitoring other institutions implement public policies that protect children. That can change now. Our work is to make sure it does,” says Morena’s representative Aleida Alavez, and Children's Rights Commission member.

Why is it important to invest in children?

According to UNICEF investing in children maltreatment prevention and attention prevents serious social problems that lead to future government expenditure. Investment includes providing healthcare to victims, addressing physical and psychological long-term consequences, like mental disease, suicide attempts or addictions. Other effects of violence are higher crime rates and homelessness.

A study published by Reinserta analyses risk factors and victimization of young offenders. Childhood maltreatment is associated with crime. The more severe and frequent physical abuse is, the earlier in life criminal behaviour.

Gael a teenager sering a five year sentence for a homicide he committed at seventeen. His parents subjected him to physical and psychological violence and his brother raped him when he was ten. He dropped out of school, started stealing and doing drugs. One day one of his friends tried to rape him and he beat him to death.

“I wanted to get him off me but I was so angry, he was my friend, I trusted him. I helped him so many times. I felt the anger fill my body. I knew I was killing him, I don’t know how to explain it but I didn’t want to stop,” said to the ONG.

According to specialists, is not a one time occurrence, neither for the victims nor for society. It can affect the next generation. 

Survivors live with scars that impact their lives permanently. For non survivors only one thing is certain: lack of justice, interest and oblivion.

UNICEF’s Leonardo Mier suggests assessing other countries which invest in childhood: Cuba, Chile, or Great Britain. “It should be a matter of public policy.” Cuba is one of the countries with lower rates of child abuse. With the program “Educate your children” authorities work with families to train parents. Through Chile’s “Grow with You” authorities visit homes to detect vulnerability. 

“We must realise a child’s death concerns us all. When a child is murdered we are all guilty,” claims Esmeralda Bedolla, Diana Mía’s grandmother, the five year old girl who died in the hands of her stepfather.

 

Traducción: Aridela Trejo

 

 


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