By Noelle Broyles and J. Pablo Salas
More than 2, 000 school-aged children live with their parents in prisons in Bolivia. Approximately 600 of these children live within La Paz’s three jails. They are the “children prisoners” who are constantly exposed to many types of dangers and abuses from adult prisoners and guards, as well as are vulnerable to diseases and malnutrition.
Last year it was reported that one of the jails in La Paz had 2,300 prisoners and over 250 children living within it’s facility, which was built to hold only 600 people. Under the current law, children under six years are allowed to stay with their parents…but the reality is that hundreds of older children continue to grow up within the prison system. Many of these kids say, “When I grow up I want to have my own cell.”
Theoretically, children whose parents are incarcerated, and who have no other relatives to care for them, should go to orphanages or other institutions. Yet most of these centers do not offer the necessary conditions for the children’s well being. A parent in prison commented, “It’s tough for them here, but at least we can try to protect them and give them a sense of family. Outside they would be completely on their own.” “Releasing the kids from prisons means their direct entry into the streets, “ one prison official stated.
The majority of prisons host a basic “day care” for children under five years of age, yet the resources are scarce. The school-aged children leave the prisons every day to attend public schools nearby. These children not only lack the basic necessities of food, clothing, healthcare, school supplies and the required school uniforms, but also the ability to build a positive self esteem as they are severely stigmatized by their teachers and peers.
The Hospital Arco Iris (HAI) ambulances (mobile medical units) have provided free medical care to the families and children living in the streets for several years, including the children living within the three jails.
Dr. Sergio Armaza is HAI’s medical director of the mobile units. He explained that the healthcare provided for these children includes primary care, ophthalmological needs, vitamin supplementations, monthly de-worming medications, and treatments for dermatological diseases caused by inadequate hygiene and malnutrition.
Until recently, the mobile units also provided 24 hour emergency care, referrals and transportation to HAI, and continued supervision of the medical, psychological, and social needs of these children during their hospitalizations and discharge/return to the prisons.
But the funding for this comprehensive medical care was cut.
Dr. Armaza stressed the urgent need for donations of medicines, eyeglasses, clothing, school supplies, and toys for this tender child population.
HOPE Bolivia is exploring opportunities to utilize our resources to support this essential program, and change the lives of these endangered children, offering them hope for their future. Your support and donations have enabled us to explore this opportunity, but so much more is needed. Please consider joining us in this effort!