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Investigation into complaints of child abuse

Recent allegations and prosecutions of abuse in children’s´ homes in Panama now await court proceedings and the outcome of the latest investigations.

 

Osvaldo Rodríguez Martínez

 

The scandal that in February led to strong protests and revelations of acts against the rights of minors, seems to lose momentum when hardly any cases are mentioned, after the Prosecutor’s Office promised to get to the bottom of the matter.

A few days ago, the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) carried out inspection   s in 56 children’s homes and related institutions, and carried out 18 investigations for alleged crimes of physical, psychological and even sexual abuse of a score of minors. During the investigations, the group of prosecutors, accompanied by psychologists and social workers, interviewed more than 280 children and adolescents who resided in the homes. There they verified irregularities that are part of the investigations, Attorney Javier Caraballo informed the press.

In addition to demonstrations in front of the headquarters of the National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents and the Family (SENNIAF), on several occasions there were massive pot-banging protests in various parts of the capital in protest of the abuses committed, whose complaints have been hushed up for years, according to press reports.

The matter transcended Panamanian borders and forced the United Nations Children’s Fund to express its “deep concern” over the allegations, and urged the authorities to carry out a swift investigation and pointed out that infants in homes are under “special protection of the State”.

The institution also called for no further delay in passing a law guaranteeing the comprehensive protection of children and adolescents, which was recommended several times by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

In mid-2020, criminal complaints were filed after documenting evidence of possible crimes of child abuse, according to a note from the Ministry of Social Development (MIDES), an integral part of SENNIAF.

Last February, the National Assembly’s Commission for Children, Women and the Family uncovered the dramatic situation of cruel treatment of children and adolescents, following an investigation into 14 centres, which sociologist Alonso Ramos described as “dungeons from medieval times”.

According to the specialist, who was part of the investigative team as a technician, in some of these places they found adolescent, young and elderly women cohabiting in the same room, others chained and locked up with padlocks, without receiving medication.

The 700 page report provided to the Public Prosecutor´s Office indicates that children even received dog food in one of the homes visited.

Ramos said that there was “suffering, frustration and fear in the minors” and that the victims will have repercussions for the rest of their lives.

These homes are managed by foundations, non-governmental organisations and religious institutions, mainly evangelical, and receive government subsidies, because the law places the children under protection of the State, although the main criticism is the lack of control over their protégés. Among the population residing in these shelters, there are minors from dysfunctional homes, social environments that are adverse to their development, the disabled, and girls who are pregnant as a result of rape. (PL)

(Translated by Susan Seccombe – Email: ess.translations at gmail dot com) – Photos: Pixabay

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