19 November 2007

Colombia's Abandoned Children

The figure is dramatic and the consequences are unpredictable. A million Colombian children below the age of 15 do not grow up with their parents though then are alive. For different reasons, they abandon them in the hands of relatives, friends or acquaintances and do not want to know of them. It could be to do with young people who become pregnant without wishing to, or of mothers who leave their partners to live together with another and the children’s father who does not want to put up with them or because push them to “gift” or sell them.

According to Profamilia (ProFamily) – a prestigious NGO that studies family matters and matters related to the world of women – this high number of minors is exposing a future plagued with risks for lack of paternal or maternal care. “The most unsettled children could end up falling into crime,” says Gabriel Ojeda, in charge of issues relating to children in Profamilia. “It’s very worrying that there are women who don’t accept, for example, their last child, that they reject them” almost always for reasons linked to poverty.

Other decisive facts in understanding a problem that does not figure in the prioritised agenda of the government, is violence, mistreatment in the families, the abuse of minors, the absence of opportunities, ignorance and, as a consequence, the high levels of pregnancy in adolescents. “In Colombia, 27% of the children are born unwanted and this means 270,000 babies each year” without their mothers wanting them, adds Ojeda.

Extreme poverty and lack of opportunities are some of the reasons for which girls see in their children too heavy a burden in supporting them. The most backward regions are also the ones where the number of children who suffer from the problem is the highest. “It’s a way of getting rid of the children by negligence or by abandoning them,” says Isabel Cuadras, in charge of Afecto Foundation.

Though Profamilia still does not know the impact in the statistics of the emigrants who leave behind their children to look for a more prosperous future in Spain or the United States, experts estimate that each day it is worse and more worrying. Psychologist Gina Vargas of Profamilia considers that children who grow up without their parents have low self-esteem, which reduces the chances of wholesome growth.

A few months ago, a teenager suffered a serious traffic accident in a neighbourhood of Bogota that left him in a coma. Taken to a hospital, nobody was interested in him. Alerted by the media, a string of parents went to the hospital to see if it was their disappeared child. Finally, it came to be known that he was the fifth son of a waitress in a modest chicken outlet in the south of the capital, the poorest region, who had lost the trail years before when she went to live with another man and the boy did not like the new partner. First he went to an aunt’s house and later opted to join up with others uprooted of his age who had made the street their home

Published in El Mundo on November 4, 2007, under the heading ‘NiƱos que crecen bajo la sombra del olvido’. Link:

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