07/27/14 (written by cmolzahn) — Rosa del Carmen Verduzco Verduzco (Mamá Rosa), the director of the La Gran Familia orphanage in Zamora, Michoacán, is under intense media scrutiny following the raid of her children’s shelter and the release of nearly 600 people, who authorities say were living in squalid conditions, and some of whom the federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) said have suffered from sexual abuse.
The center had been in operation since the 1940s, and was known locally as Mamá Rosa’s Home, and had been both widely praised for attending to the needs of children abandoned by their families, and condemned by critics as a makeshift prison. On July 15, federal agents raided the center, freeing 432 children (174 girls and 278 boys), and 138 adults (50 women and 109 men) they said were living in abhorrent conditions. The case has since brought demonstrations both for and against the center’s 79 year old founder and her life’s work sheltering troubled youth, dating back to the 1960s. Authorities say the raid of the center stemmed from reports from parents that they were being denied access to their children staying there.
These reports emerged as early as 2010, when El Universal published a story about parents’ complaints of being denied access to their children, who once admitted, were not allowed to leave until they turned 18. Parents also then complained of abuses committed against their children. In an interview for the same story, Verduzco said that the majority of the children in the center come from “dysfunctional families,” and according to the terms that the parents agree to in the presence of a notary public, they must demonstrate substantial improvements in their own living conditions in order to secure their children’s release. In an interview with Univisión, Verduzco appeared to continue defending her work as well as the conditions under which the children were living. Responding to a question about feeding children expired food, she said, “We live in two different worlds. People who have a high quality of life think that drinking an expired beverage is something very bad, but I have been eating that way for 80 years.” Authorities maintain that she was unaware of the extent of the abuses suffered by children in her center, due to suffering from dementia.
Authorities’ reports from inside the center have drawn widespread public outcry, including one of a particular space devoted to mothers between 14 and 16 years old who conceived while confined to La Gran Familia facilities. Other images published following the raid show garbage-strewn rooms, as well as food well past its expiration date or infested with insects. Reports have emerged from within the shelter of rape and other forms of physical abuse, as well as individuals claiming to have been held against their will, in some cases for a matter of years. Others were reportedly denied food and water as punishment. Children were allegedly forced to beg on the streets and return proceeds to center workers.
Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio said that the operation at La Gran Familia came as part of a nationwide review of the country’s shelters, although indicated that there had been numerous complaints against La Gran Familia filed with Michoacán’s family welfare authority (Sistema para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, DIF), as well as with the PGR, principally from parents claiming that they had been denied access to their children, most of whom had been handed over to the center for disciplinary problems.
Despite the initial outcry over the discovery of the living conditions within the La Gran Familia shelter, several high-profile public figures have come forward to defend Verduzco. Most prominent among them has been former President Vicente Fox, who has spoken with Verduzco by phone since she was released from hospital care. Fox urged her to reopen the center, and offered assistance from his charity, Centro Fox, in “correcting the failures” of the shelter. Fox said that Verduzco was favorable to the idea of continuing with the shelter, which he advocates should shift its focus to the “ninis,” the multitudes of Mexican youth on the streets that are neither enrolled in school nor have jobs. Fox added that the raid and closure of the shelter was part of a strategy by the federal government to send a message to its U.S. counterpart that it had control over the youth situation in Mexico, amidst the record number of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing from Mexico into the United States. Also publicly expressing support for Verduzco are Fox’s wife, Martha Sahagún, renowned Mexican journalists Elena Poniatowska and Lydia Cacho, and public intellectual Enrique Krauze. Cacho, who has long spoken out against sex trafficking and child abuse, defending Verduzco’s five decades of work with the shelter, saying that she provided housing and care to thousands of children that were otherwise ignored.
Amidst calls for justice, the PGR has ruled out bringing charges against Verduzco, due to her advanced age and mental decline. Nevertheless, six others involved in La Gran Familia do face charges, ranging from unlawful imprisonment to organized crime. Investigators are also awaiting exam results for victims to determine whether to bring charges of sexual abuse. In addition, the PGR stated that it is investigating allegations that individuals at La Gran Familia in effect purchased children through a notary public, upon which they required parents to sign a statement vowing not to request their children’s return. There are also allegations that the center demanded payment from parents in exchange for returning their children. The six individuals in question have been transferred to a federal prison in Nayarit and were indicted by a federal judge in Jalisco on July 24 on charges of human trafficking and unlawful imprisonment. Two additional shelter workers, both teachers, remain free due to a lack of evidence against them. Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam added that parents who left their children with La Gran Familia could also face criminal charges. Investigators are currently pursuing 150 complaints against the center, including from public and private donors whose funds paid to sustain the center’s operations. The judge who issued the indictments also ordered the seizure of the shelter, located in the La Luneta neighborhood of Zamora.
Maya, Nubia and María de la Luz González. “Casa hogar ‘secuestra a menores, afirman padres.” El Universal. August 1, 2010.
Wilkinson, Tracy. “Controversy surrounds rescue of children from Mexico shelter.” Los Angeles Times. July 17, 2014.
“Vicente Fox apoya a ‘Mamá Rosa’ para reabrir albergue.” Informador. July 20, 2014.
Otero, Silvia. “Ve PGR inimputabilidad para detener a ‘Mamá Rosa.’” El Universal. July 21, 2014.
Notimex. “Caso de Zamora, parte de revisión en albergues: Osorio.” El Universal. July 21, 2014.
“Mamá Rosa habla en exclusiva para Univisión.” Univisión. July 22, 2014.
Redacción. “Dan prisión a 6 de La Gran Familia.” Reforma. July 24, 2014.