Latin America and the Caribbean

A HREF="">Inter Press Service
16 August 1996


SAN SALVADOR, (Aug. 14) IPS - The Olof Palme human rights organization claims that there was a plan in El Salvador to exterminate street children by the sectors who consider the youngsters a criminal scourge littering the city streets.

The organization, which works to defend the street children, said the plan was being carried out by hired assassins and some public security officers.

Nine children have been killed in the last year. Many others have been beaten, raped or issued death threats.

The latest victim killed was 16-year-old Henry Escamilla. He was found dead in San Salvador with a bullet wound to the head, after a person he asked for money fired at him.

Ricardo Quinonez, director of the Olof Palme organization said the Escamilla case is similar to other crimes blamed on the National Civil Police (PNC) who work in central San Salvador.

Only one police officer has been taken to court for violence against street children, and though the officer, Jose Cruz, had wounded 17-year-old Reynaldo Funes for no apparent reason, the child refused to present charges for fear of retribution.

In the case of the murders, the denunciations were presented to the courts, but the investigations were halted. The current legal system does not consider the evidence given by street children to be binding, said Oscar Villacorta, representing the Olof Palme organization.

According to figures from the institution, there are some 2,000 street children in the metropolitan area of San Salvador.

But Villacorta said the phenomenon was not only limited to the capital. All the 14 provincial capitals of El Salvador, especially the cities of Santa Ana and San Miguel, are also affected.

Vice Minister of Public Security Alberto Carranza said that street children are looked on as children "and not as the criminals they are."

"At 10 years old they are dangerous; they steal and sometimes even worse," said Carranza, though he added this did not mean that violence against them was justified.

These street children are also known as "the glue sniffers" since most of them tend to use solvent abuse to escape their situation.

The Attorney General's Office for the Defense of Human Rights said that last year the PNC was the worst violator of the children's rights, violating the law for child offenders and the international conventions. When the children are arrested they are handcuffed and physically and mentally abused.

However, some sectors of the public and state institutions are now paying more attention to the proliferation of street children.

In coordination with the Olof Palme organization, public health units from several parts of the city are working in the rehabilitation of these young drug addicts, and are also dealing with emergency cases.

Schools for street children have also been opened, along with training in human and workers rights, and the offer of legal assistance.

Villacorta said that the increase in the number of street children in El Salvador was due to the economic crisis and values affecting Salvadoran society, which lead to family breakdown.

However, in one year 23 street children have gone back to their families. "Some learn a trade in the programs we develop and go to work, but others are less lucky and die as a result of the violence in the street and drug addiction. And still others go to prison," said Villacorta.

Return to PANGAEA HomePage