The Orphans of Ciudad Juárez, a Generation Marked by Hate

By Dialogo
April 26, 2011

Its necessary to work harder Save the children.
Human tortured minds
Of in need of understanding
At six years old, Jorge is filling a piggy bank with which he hopes to “buy a goat’s horn” (an AK-47 rifle) to kill his dad’s murderers, according to the psychologist who cares for a handful of the twelve thousand minors orphaned by violence in Ciudad Juárez, in northern Mexico.

The little boy is one of the few receiving psychological treatment to overcome the trauma of seeing one of their parents die in this city on the U.S. border where seven thousand people have been murdered in the wars among drug traffickers and in anti-drug operations since 2007.

“At least twelve thousand children have lost one or both of their parents. Right now, it’s hatred and desire for vengeance against whoever killed their parents, but tomorrow it’s going to be hatred and desire for vengeance against the state that allowed them to be killed,” warned Gustavo de la Rosa, a local inspector for the State Human Rights Commission.

De la Rosa calculated that number on the basis of the fact that the majority of the seven thousand victims were between seventeen and thirty-five years old.

Couples in Ciudad Juárez usually have an average of three children, often before reaching the age of twenty.

The official explained that he has only twenty psychologists to provide care to the family members – adults and children – of the dead, whose numbers are increasing by an average of fifty a week.

At the end of a meeting of local institutions with victim-services departments, he confessed, “We just counted how many psychologists we could come up with among all of us, and we didn’t get to a hundred.”

“We urgently need psychologists who’ve had experience with children in the Balkans, in Africa,” he affirmed.

In addition to the psychologists employed by the public prosecutor’s office, an association of Catholic specialists in end-of-life care provides free services to children younger than eight. Jorge is one of them.

His mom “arrived in hysterics to tell us what her son told her about the piggy bank, and these are stories we hear over and over,” said Silvia Aguirre, founder of the Family Center for Integration and Growth, which has six therapists.

Another boy asked for a piggy bank in order to “set it up at the television station that showed his dad’s decapitated head,” she added.

The children receive play therapy in order to bring them out of the isolation and episodes of rage into which they fall after the deaths of their parents and the stigma they face in their communities as ‘drug traffickers’ children.’

“We also give workshops for adolescents and adults. There are many, many people who need help. Just in one secondary school near here, with 300 students, 210 have lost one of their parents to violence,” she said.

Myrna Pastrana, a writer born in Ciudad Juárez, has collected another hundred stories of young children.

Pastrana is the author of Cuando las banquetas fueron nuestras [When the sidewalks were ours], which deals with the traumatic situation of Ciudad Juárez, a once-tranquil city that is now desolate as soon as night begins to fall, especially downtown, where a number of shops have been burned and abandoned.

The main bridge connecting the city to neighboring El Paso (Texas) is not far away.

“A six-year old boy said that some men came to his home, took him out together with his parents and his three older siblings, lined them up, killed his parents, and put them in a cart, and the boy saw how they took them off, leaving pools of blood behind,” she recalled.

“Thousands of children are not receiving help. Undoubtedly, they are going to turn into resentful adults; they’ll probably feed the cycle of death,” said Pastrana, with whom De la Rosa and Aguirre agreed.

The state government has created a fund of 100 million pesos (800,000 dollars) for victim services, but even Ciudad Juárez’s mayor, Héctor Murguía, acknowledges that the amount is insufficient.