Universe Column for April 13th 2003
By David Alton
In the Central American republic of Honduras a staggering 50 children and young people are being murdered each and every single month. Between 1998 and the end of last year around 1500 children and young people, including street children, were put to death. The number is rising inexorably – with 67 children butchered last month alone. This is a bloody stain on the reputation of a small country of just six million people.
Jorge Alcerro, the Honduran Interior Minister, was in London last week and he admitted that two thirds of the instigators of these crimes remain unidentified. He says that the have set up a Special Unit to investigate the deaths of the children but that progress has been painfully slow.
When I asked him about the 5,000 youngsters involved in the country’s gangland – and from whom come many of the perpetrators and victims – he admitted that only one third of children of secondary school age are actually being educated in schools: “Most of the gangland members have failed in their education. Many would leave the gangs if education and resources were available,” Senor Alcerro claimed.
He also told me that “drugs have become a way of living for gangland members – and that their usage leads to criminality. There are also links between the criminal fraternity, organised crime and the police.”
The plight of Latin America’s 40 million estimated street children, and the suffering children of Honduras in particular, has been exposed by Casa Alianza (ital) – Covenant House – which was founded in 1981 by a Catholic nun. Today, its Chief Executive is a Briton, Bruce Harris. He says that Casa Alianza is serving a phenomenal 9,000 children a year – most of whom have been orphaned by civil war, abused or rejected by dysfunctional and poverty-stricken families, and left to fester by indifferent and callous political leaders.
Chillingly, some Honduran newspapers have even suggested that the killings might be an answer to the country’s internal insecurity and crime. 66,000 criminal acts were committed last year alone according to Senor Alcerro.
Casa Alianza says that in Honduras the legal process simply doesn’t work. The Special Unit set up to investigate the murders has been ineffective and totally understaffed. So far only one of the 24 cases given to the Unit by Casa Alianza has resulted in a conviction: “Last month,” they say” 64 more children were murdered, some on the doorstep of Casa Alianza. We see these tragedies on a daily basis. We end up burying a large number of the children.”
Amnesty International tell me that since coming to office in January 2002 President Ricardo Maduro has been saying the right things but “in spite of numerous promises and government initiatives, there has in reality been no decline in the number of deaths.” Amnesty say that 22% of cases involve members of the security forces and “other people acting with the implicit consent of the authorities.”
Senor Alcerro paid tribute to the work undertaken by the Church and by Casa Alianza in working for justice and in providing practical help. Casa Alianza reunites 28 former street children with their families each month – 85% of whom never return to the streets.
The importance of that work is underlined by these moving lines written by Ludvin Omar Valdes, a 17 year-old murdered in 1998:
“To you my dear friend I say
don’t let yourself be forgotten,
you that has no father
and therefore has slept on the streets
making a doorway your only nest
that the rich have invaded
to be able to finish you off. “
Casa Alianza may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org