Panamanian deputy Zulay Rodríguez, along with eight other parliamentarians, presented a report that reveals the “subhuman conditions” in which dozens of minors lived, in at least 14 state shelters run by oenegés. Although the complaint is from more than a week ago, for the first time the alleged perpetrators are vaguely pointed out, in the middle of a process in which progress is not publicly known.
“Girls denounce that religious made them pregnant and abortions were committed.” That is the complaint presented by the Panamanian deputy Zulay Rodríguez, president of the Commission for Women, Children, Youth and the Family of the National Assembly of Panama.
The policy of the ruling party explained to the EFE news agency that sexual abuse occurred at least since 2015 in 14 shelters throughout the country, establishments that were run by the State.
“The abuses were committed by the same inmates” who were supposed to take care of minors. There is even a case of a minor who “was repeatedly abused for five years, from 10 to 15,” according to the deputy.
This is the first time since the scandal was uncovered that an authority points, albeit vaguely, to someone as responsible for the harassment to which the minors were subjected.
President Cortizo’s Belated Response to the Shelter Scandal
All the controversy arose last week when Rodríguez and other deputies presented a 400-page report to the Attorney General’s Office. In it, the parliamentary subcommittee reported that, in addition to the abuse, dozens of minors were physically and psychologically mistreated in the shelters. Many of the institutions did not have the regulatory operating permit, nor did the qualified personnel and the minors lived in “subhuman conditions” and some of them had certain degrees of disability.
Although the shelters are administered by private organizations such as NGOs, criticism was raised against the State, for being in charge of supervising these places and providing them with public funds. The entity most criticized was the National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents and the Family (Senniaf), which has among its functions to monitor the institutions for the protection of minors.
Despite the fact that the deputies presented the report to the Assembly on February 9, as It is shown on the institution’s website, the country’s president, Laurentino Cortizo, did not speak until February 17 and after social pressure for his silence.
Cortizo was forced to broadcast a message across the country. Through national television, he promised that he would order the Ministry of Social Development and the National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents and the Family to file a complaint in cases “where there are indications of violation of the rights of a girl, a boy or a a teenager. “
The president also stated that his government would present a bill to increase penalties for crimes of sexual abuse against minors and called for a punishment with the “maximum rigor” for those responsible.
The perpetrators responsible for crimes committed against the rights of girls, boys and adolescents, must be punished with the maximum rigor of the law, without contemplation.
We will not rest in the construction of a better country, a country that begins with our children.
– Nito Cortizo (@NitoCortizo) February 17, 2021
Cortizo also recalled that the complaints were not recent. The president indicated in his Twitter account that in July 2020, the Ministry of Social Development and the aforementioned Secretariat “filed criminal complaints with the Public Ministry against those who are responsible, whether they are NGOs or foundations, for alleged crimes in the operation of shelters.”
But by then it was believed that the abuses had only occurred in the village of Tocumen, in the center of the country. And contrary to the work highlighted by the president, the local media ‘La Prensa’ revealed that Senniaf knew the cases since the beginning of 2019 and for more than a year he did nothing to raise the complaint.
In October 2020, the parliamentarians presented a preview of their investigation and revealed that there was not only one shelter with irregularities, but at least five. The Government responded by issuing Executive Decree 404, with which the Ministry of Social Development modifies the law that regulates the opening and operation of shelters.
The process is carried out amidst secrecy and Panamanians protest in the streets
Today the number of shelters affected is in 14 state centers. The Panamanian Public Ministry explained that, after the final version of the report, at least eight people were indicted for the abuses committed against minors in the shelters.
However, the Attorney General of the Nation, Eduardo Ulloa, has refused to publish the names of those people, arguing that this would reveal the strategy of the Prosecutor’s Office in the investigation. Neither is it known which are the NGOs and the foundations that would be involved, nor the concrete progress of the processes.
The reported abuses and the response that the Government has given ignited the demonstrations in the streets of Panama. This Monday the central stage was the Ministry of Labor. The protests demanded justice for the children and jail for those responsible for the abuses.
“We have been on the streets for three weeks and there is no accurate response from the Government. We have seen how they have tried to hide information and the people involved. As youth, we feel indignant, sad; we feel anger and impotence, ”Dionel Salazar, a member of the Revolutionary Youth organization, told EFE.
Last Wednesday, a week after the scandal was uncovered, Cortizo requested punishment with the “maximum rigor of the law for those responsible for crimes committed against the rights of girls, boys and adolescents,” he defended that Senniaf and Mides They filed at least one complaint in 2020 and asked both institutions to become plaintiffs in the judicial process.