Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Girls Sold into Marriage In Exchange for Money, Animals and Food

NOTE: This story is translated and abridged from an article written by Patricia Chandomí and originally published by CIMAC Noticias. It is published here with the generous permission of the autor.*

I was eleven when I heard that they had come to claim me. I heard them drinking to celebrate the agreement. The day the deal was sealed, there were some pigs and some food ready … I fled. I was very scared. And then, I felt very guilty for everything that happened after I escaped from my village.

This story was told by Odilia López Álvarez, a indigenous women of Chol origins, now an activist in the Womens’ Rights Centre in Chiapas (Centro de Derecho de la Mujer), Mexico. Her’s is a story that has been told many times. In Chiapas it is still possible for men to obtain an eleven-year old “wife”, to provide them with domestic and sexual services.

It is unlikely this story will be the last one, despite the Federal Senate’s recent initiative to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 in twenty-five state congresses and thus guarantee girls’ and teenage girls’ rights. The proposal was adopted in Chiapas and the state civil code was amended to only allow adults to marry.

Even so, it is questionable how much of an impact this will have within the indigenous communities of Chiapas, since marriages between minors are not usually celebrated according to state law, but only orally in the presence of “witnesses to the union”. These wedding are valid only in accordance with the local community’s “customs and practices” and are not registered. As a result it is difficult to know how many women and girls are forced to marry this way.

In terms of registered marriages,  Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) states that 17.3% of girls in Mexico are married before they are 18.  This figure stands at 3.9% for boys. The UN estimates that 5.1% of children in Mexico are married before the age of 15.


20130226-172036.jpgWithin Mexico, Chiapas is the state with the second highest rate of child marriage. A report from the consulting firm Consultores en Administración y Políticas Públicas  showed that there were 5, 234 underage marriages in Mexico in 2015. The states with the highest numbers were  Guerrero (795), Chiapas (747), Mexico State (541), Coahuila (463) y Michoacán (454).

UNICEF states that girls from poorer households are more likely to be married as children.Los Altos is Chiapas’s poorest region. It contains 17 municipal governments: Aldama, Amatenango del Valle, Chalchihuitán, San Juan Chamula, Chenalhó, Huixtán, San Andrés Larráinzzar, Mitontic, Oxchuc, Pantelhó, San Cristóbal de las Casas, San Juan Cancuc, Santiago El Pinar, Tenejapa, Teopisca and Zinancantán. All have a high concentration of indigenous population. The INEGI states that Chiapas is home to a million girls, of whom, one third is indigenous.

Karen Dianne Padilla, an activist against child marriages says:

In some homes, girls are seen as a burden. Another mouth to feed, [someone else] to dress, buy shoes for. In other cases, they are seen as property. If they possess certain characteristics, [families] know that they can make some kind of profit from the payment the bridegroom will make.

María Eugenia Pérez Fernández, a member of the Committee for the Attention of Women and Girls in the State Congress said:

The sale of underage girls continues in Chiapas especially in the area of Los Altos, where they are even exchanged for material goods.

Mexico’s constitution recognises the right of indigenous communities to govern their affairs according to their own “custom and practices”. However, they are obliged to respect human rights. Child marriage is clearly not compatible with a respect for human rights.  David Vázquez Hernández, a lawyer specialising in gender, points out that Mexico since 2003 has also adopted the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination.

[This law] defines as discriminatory: the impediment to choosing a spouse or partner; using any type of custom and practices to infringe human dignity and rights; and, any practice that obstaculises the minimum necessary conditions for the health growth and development of children.

Karen Padilla notes:

There is tension between custom and uses and respect for human rights. Since the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (National Zapatista Liberation Army or EZLN) appeared in 1994, various non government agencies arrived in Chiapas to fight in favour of [indigenous] peoples’ right to autonomy in government. There was a lot of international solidarity for this. However, this autonomy has made the abuse of women and girls’ rights invisible.

According to the INEGI, there were a total of 12, 400 mothers under the ages of 15 in Chiapas in 2010, which make it the third state in Mexico with most teenage pregnancy. In 2016, Chiapas is now in first place. Of these, 510 are girls between 12 and 14.


Talking to women in Los Altos is difficult. First you must get past the male authorities and conversations with women are always through men. This report is made with reports of women who have left their communities, those who have been widowed, separated, abandoned or have fled.

Marco Shilon, ex Secretary for Indigenous People and professor in the Law Faculty of the University Autonomous of Chiapas, explains that for the indigenous Totsil people of San Juan Chamula, individuals do not exist. In this cosmovision, accepting a husband is not a matter for the girl, but her family.

The bride doesn’t know the bridegroom. It is the suitor who chooses the bride and goes to ask her father and her mother for her hand in marriage. He takes presents: boxes of bread, bananas, soft drinks and posh (a local alcoholic beverage).

When the suitor is with the family, the father asks his daughter if she wants to marry him. The girl can spy on the man to see him. If she likes him she says yes. If she doesn’t like him, the suitor can insist up to ten times.

Manuel de la Cruz Santiz, local indigenous magistrate in San Juan Chamula, points out that in most indigenous communities, wives have the right to separation if the husband is very violent or when they no longer want to live together. If the man is responsible for the separation, he is required to pay one sum of  3, 000 pesos for each child and allow his wife a quarter of their home.

But, according to the traditions of San Juan Chamula, the bridegroom can return the bride if she is not a virgin, if she doesn’t know how to cook, or doesn’t like cleaning, or if they cry because they are missing their home. If this happens, the parents must return the gifts they have received, plus a payment of interest. Otherwise they will be fined and turned over to the local indigenous authorities.

Luz Santiz, from San Juan Chamula, recognises that girls are sold into marriage.

There are sales, but it isn’t in the interests of the parents to say so, because they benefit. […] My mother asked for 10, 000 pesos to pay for the wedding party, as they say. This is a way of asking for 10, 000 pesos for her daughter as my mother did not hold a party. She paid her debts with the money.

Luz remembers that her mother denied that the bridegroom had given her money. But she says she saw him giving her the money.

Darío [her husband] saw me as I was selling in the Santo Domingo handicraft market. I was 14. He gave me a piece of a telephone card with his mobile number on it and asked me to call him. I knew I had to use the card to phone him or he would think I had spent it on other things. So I called him, and he asked me out. I said yes, and we went to eat ice-cream. He bought me some shoes and we had our photograph taken.

Luz says she has no romantic interest in him.

My mistake was having my photograph taken with him because he used that to blackmail me into marrying him. He said, “I am going to show this to your parents in San Juan to show them that you have already gone out with me.” I decided it would be better to marry him. So, I went to live in his parents’ house. He mistreated me a lot. He raped me, all our sexual relations were rapes.


Margarita López is from Tojchuctik, in the municipality of Mitontic, one of the ten poorest municipalities in Mexico. She relates that she was sold to Juan Velasco López when she was 10, in exchange for 10 garrafones (very large bottles) of posh. 

Juan did not just marry Margarita, but also took a second partner. According to Margarita, both women were forced to have sexual relations with him. Juan also repeatedly raped his oldest daughter and caused her to have two children.

Cecilia, Margarita’s oldest daughter, killed her father when he tried to rape another daughter. Margarita was blamed and imprisoned for seven years. Today she looks after her children and her mother’s children in her village.

According to the organization, Melel Xojobal, violence against girls and teenage girls is widespread in Chiapas. In 2008, 42% of women from Los Altos reported that they had been beaten or been humiliated as children. 7% reported sexual abuse. 41% of women said they had been victims of violence at the hands of their partners. 10% reported they had been sexually assaulted.

Luz says:

In our culture, we don’t talk about sex. Many of us get to our wedding nights not knowing what to expect. We’re only girls of 12, 13 or 14. Now my thoughts are different. I know my first sexual relation was rape. I didn’t want it. It hurt, I was scared and he forced himself onto me and carried on forcing me. Sex is not a moment we enjoy very much.



In an interview last March, the local deputy María Eugenia Pérez, maintained that the State Congress had enacted a number of laws to protect women and girls’ rights in Chiapas. She argues that what is required is a culture which promotes the denunciation of abuses.

In response, David Vázquez argues that:

Raising the minimum age required to marry is not enough to eradicate forced marriage. We also need to promote public policies that raise awareness and transform the place that women and girls occupy within indigenous communities. But that is not enough, either. We need to commitment from all areas of government, a commitment to reducing poverty  and bettering economic and education prospects for the indigenous communities in Chiapas.

Karen Dianne Padilla is more forceful:

The law is not enough. How can the authorities expect that a monolingual indigenous girl, poor and threatened, could take a bus to the municipal capital and report her forced marriage? Ha. And who is going to feed them? Where are they going to live?

We need a government programme, civil organizations that can receive reports in the villages themselves. Organizations that guarantee anonymity and offer protection and better life opportunities to these girls.

We need to urgently draw up mechanisms for reporting [forced marriage] and [offering] protection to these girls. There is no monitoring, no statistics that allow us to know the seriousness of this problem.

Meanwhile, Luz and Odilia carry on quietly rescuing and helping girls who flee forced marriages; a reality that the law has not changed.

*This report was written as part of the Mike O’Connor Fellowship at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Iniciativa para el periodismo  de Investigación de las Américas, which ICFJ runs in partnership with Connectas.

Filed under: Child marriage, Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , , ,

Soldiers Accused of Raping Two Indigenous Women Finally Arrested After Twelve Years

For context read this blog post post from October 2010.

The soldiers accused of raping Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega in Guerrero, Mexico, have finally been arrested and charged, three years after the Inter American Court of Human Rights ordered that the Mexican State prosecute the military soldiers responsible for the rape and torture of these two indigenous women and twelve years after the crimes were committed. It remains to be seen if they will be condemned or even tried, as the Mexican military is openly hostile to the prosecution of military men in civilian courts and until now, the Supreme Court has supported this military fuero ( see here for details).

For more information (in Spanish) see this report.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Politics, Violence Against Women, , ,

Three Years in Prison Without Trial

Virginia, a young indigenous women from Guerrero, suffered a miscarriage in 2009. Since then she has been in prison in Huamuxtitlan, Guanajuato, charged with murder. There has never been an autopsy to determine the cause of fetal death. All judicial proceedings against Virginia have been carried in out in Spanish and she was not offered a translator who could explain proceeding in her native Nahuatl. Neither did she have access to a defense lawyer who could speak her language.

In January this year, thanks to the work of the NGO Las Libres and the volunteer law students from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) in Mexico City, a federal judge ruled that her human rights had not been respected. In the light of the fact that there was no evidence to support the charge against her, the judge also ordered that she should be released. However, this has not happened. Instead, the local judge re-issued a warrant for her arrest on the same charges.

Verónica Cruz, director of Las Libres, told news agencies that this new warrant was a “reprisal” against Virginia for exposing the abuses committed by the judicial authorities in Huamuxtitlan. She also observed that her plight was the result of the “triple discrimination” Virginia has been subjected to in the judicial process as a poor, indigenous woman.

As I reported last week, this “triple discrimination” is sadly the norm for the Mexican justice system. However, in the case of Virginia, there is also a further difficulty. Guanajuato is one of the most conservative states in Mexico. It was one of the first states to reform its constitution in 2010 in to declare that the right to life began at conception. As I reported recently, its governor has openly opposed federal directives which oblige health service providers to grant abortions to women who have suffered sexual assault.

Guanajuato has a long track record of imprisoning women for miscarriages and still-births. As is the case with Virginia, the strategy of the judicial authorities is to charge them with murder –which can be punished with sentences as long as 25 years– rather than for procuring an abortion, which has a five-year tariff. Two years ago, Las Libres and students from the CIDE law school successfully championed the cases of six women who had been in prison for as long as eight years. Like Virginia they were convicted of murder after losing their pregnancies. None of the women jailed had actually procured an abortion; rather each one had suffered a miscarriage, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or ignorance they had tried to conceal. Once they had been forced to seek medical attention, one of the people who attended them (doctor/social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities. All of the women were from the poorest areas of the state and lived in conditions of poverty and social marginalization. They were unable to neither defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them.

Cruz is certain that Virginia can be absolved if only the judicial process could be concluded. The fact that she is merely charged and not formally sentenced means that there is a limit to what her defense lawyers are able to do. It is evident that the local authorities in Huamuxtitlan know this and are purposely dragging their feet to stall the case being sentenced. As a result, Virigina has now been in prison for three years.

As I wrote last week, life is extremely difficult inside prison for women such as Virginia who don’t speak Spanish and are far away from home and access to support networks. It is testament to the deep misogyny of Mexican society that its most vulnerable women are treated in this way.

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

Mexico Before CEDAW: A Catalogue of Woes

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination and Violence Against Women (or CEDAW) was established in 1982 and is composed of 23 experts on women’s issues. The objective of the committee is to watch over the situation of women in those countries that signed the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Each country periodically presents a report to the committee which is then discussed by the committee. NGOs and human rights groups can also present a review of the situation to the committee. The committee then draws up recommendations based on this discussion.

This year the countries presenting reports to the CEDAW include the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guayana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand and Samoa. Mexico’s report was presented and discussed this week. Various national and international NGOs also submitted evaluations to CEDAW, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Organization Against Torture, Mexico’s Commission for Human Rights, Justice for Our Daughters and Centre for Women’s Rights in Chiapas.

The papers submitted by human rights organizations make for depressing reading. In general they highlight a series of issues which make life for women in Mexico –especially poor and/or indigenous women– extremely fraught with danger. In the coming weeks I shall look into the issues in more detail. However, this week I want to provide a general overview.

Killing of women: In November 2011 a joint report by Mexico’s government and UNIFEM concluded that at least 34, 000 women had been murdered in Mexico between 1985-2009. It also demonstrated that there had been a marked fall in the murder rate amongst men after 2007, but that the equivalent rate for women had stayed the same. Murder rates for both sexes have increased dramatically since then, partly as a result of the insecurity and violence created by the crackdown on drug gangs. In 2010 it is estimated that there were 2, 418 murders of women and 23, 285 murders of men.

Amnesty notes that murders of women however are frequently undocumented and that there is a routine failure to conduct autopsies. It also points to the fact that the manner in which murders of women are documented make it impossible to determine the rate with which women murderers are arrested and prosecuted.

Amnesty also highlights the brutality in which women are murdered and concludes that violence against them is very frequently of a misogynistic nature:

“Women are three times more likely than men to die by the cruelest means, such as hanging, strangulation, drowning, immersion and knives. Women are also three times more likely to be murdered by poisoning or burns with chemicals or fire.”

Abuse of migrant women: Tens of thousands of irregular migrants from Central America cross Mexico each year on their way to the US. They are regularly targeted by criminal gangs for kidnapping, extortion, trafficking and murder often with the full complicity of the police. In 2011, the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights found that some 11, 000 migrants had been kidnapped. Amnesty estimated that at least six of every ten migrant women are sexually assaulted during their passage through Mexico.

Imprisonment of women: Approximately 5% of Mexico’s prison population is female. However only 13 out of 455 prisons, 2.8%, are exclusively female, the rest are mixed. In a study of 92 mixed prisons it was found that in 22 women’s dormitories were inside male facilities and the inmates used shared facilities.

Women form a disproportionate number of remand prisoners. The great majority of them are between 18 and 37, usually mothers and often single parents. More than 85% are first time offenders and 65% are accused of crimes related to drugs, usually relating to the possession of small amounts of prohibited sustances.

Women are often badly treated and tortured during their arrest and imprisonment. The World Organization Against Torture highlights the case of a group of 47 women arrested for protesting in town of San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State in 2006. 26 later made formal complaints after they were raped and sexually assaulted by the police who transported them to prison. The report highlights the Mexican “state’s lack of will” to prosecute those involved.

Sexual and Reproductive Rights: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty point to the difficulty women have to obtain contraception and legal abortion. They emphasize how constitutional reforms passed in numerous Mexican states which guarantee life from conception have had the “chilling effect” of reinforcing barriers to legal abortion. Moreover, they highlight the wide-spread practice of arresting women after miscarriage and still birth on charges of foeticide or infanticide.

Maternal Mortality Amongst Indigenous Women: The risk of maternal death amongst indigenous women is considerably higher than amongst no-indigenous women. This is the result of inadequate or inaccessible health care facilities, discriminatory practices towards indigenous women by health care professionals and a lack of translators.

As might be expected, the Mexican government’s statement to CEDAW tried to paint a rather different picture of life for women in Mexico. It highlighted the advances in education amongst girls, for example raising primary school attendance from 94% to 96% and secondary school attendance from 75% to 86%. It also made much of recent constitutional reforms by which Mexico adopted the UN’s declaration of human rights. It also talked of government reforms to widen health-care provision; it mentioned family planning policies in passing but did not address the issue of abortion. Finally, it recognized the “violence against women is one of the biggest challenges faced by the actual administration”. However, it asked the Committee to take into account the context of violence in which Mexico currently lives in assessing this situation.

An edited version of this article is available on e-feminist.

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Josefina isn’t Different


Next week Mexico goes to the polls to choose its next president. Both in and outside Mexico, one of the most reported aspects of the race has been the fact that one of the main stream parties -the Partido Acción Nacional or PAN- fielded a women as their candidate. As Yali Noriega noted in a recent article here, much of the media discussion concerned the questioning of a woman’s ability to fulfil adequately the role of president, and took little account of Vázquez Mota’s previous career [1].

Happily as the campaign progressed this type of argument was abandoned. It was widely thought that Vázquez Mota performed well in the television presidential debates and the discussion of her candidacy has been mostly in terms of her political proposals [2].

It is shame, therefore, that the election campaign followed by Vázquez Mota, in contrast, has been almost exclusively based around the fact the she is a women. Her slogans are simple and to the point: “Josefina, different” and “Josefina, a woman speaks”. During her campaign she has made a point of seeking out the female vote; her argument is always the same, I am a woman too, I share your experiences and thus know what you need. In the recent television debate she asked pointedly asked her female audience, who -of the four candidates currently running- would they put in charge of their family and to choose their vote accordingly. She was sure, she said, they would choose her as she was the only one with experience in that area.

However, for Vázquez Mota this use of “identity politics” is merely superficial effort to disguise the fact that she is, in fact, no different to the other male PAN presidential candidates that proceeded her. She is not a feminist, nor does she want to identify as such. “There is more to being a woman than being a feminist,” she said in a recent interview with the BBC. She reassures voters on her ability to govern by saying that she might be a woman but she has male attributes. To quote her: “a woman who wears the trousers.”

Moreover, her policies and pronouncements demonstrate that for her, women are a homogenous mass, whose needs and votes are can be defined by a single theme: motherhood. In the aforementioned television debate, Vázquez Mota, outlined her policies for women thus: “I will support them by introducing more nursery school places, more full-time school places and by introducing a law calling for responsible paternity.”

At the same time, she refused to give her support for elective abortion; declaring herself only for the decriminalisation for those found to have interrupted their pregnancy. The PAN is a conservative Catholic party that opposes abortion in most, if not all cases. It has been instrumental in introducing legislation that declares human life to begin at conception in a number of Mexican states. Thus, this kind of comment was disingenuous in the extreme since she must be aware of that fact that these recent reforms make simple decriminalisation impossible.

Thus Josefina Vázquez Mota trades on the fact she is a woman, yet cannot conceive of women as anything other than mothers. She says she represents the best option for Mexican voters because of her sex, yet argues she acts like a man. It is little wonder then that her campaign has been spectacularly unsuccessful. She is currently in third place according to the most recent opinion polls. Mexican women seem perfectly capable of seeing though her slogans. Mexico would benefit from a female president, but only one who has a better understanding of the complexities of women’s experiences and their needs. Otherwise it’s just more of the same.

[1] See Yali Noriega’s recent article, “Is Josefina right for Mexico?” at http://e-feminist.com .
[2] A good biography (in Spanish) of Vázquez Mota’s career can be found in the following link; although, as usual there is a definite emphasis on her private life and various moments of physical illness and weakness she has suffered during her career: http://www.nexos.com.mx/?P=leerarticulo&Article=2102725

This article first appeared at http://e-feminist.com

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, , , ,

Women and the Drug Traffickers

Women’s participation in drug trafficking has recently made the headlines thanks to Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo, 2011) a Mexican film about a beauty pageant wannabe who is kidnapped and forced to become a drug runner for a gang of traffickers in Tijuana, received critical acclaim at Cannes last year. The screen play is loosely based on a real life incident in 2008 in which beauty queen Laura Zuñiga was arrested aboard a lorry full of explosives along with drug traffickers in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Similarly, La Reina del Sur (The Queen of the South), was one of this year’s most popular soap operas produced by television network Telemundo (USA) in conjunction with the Antena 3 network (Spain) and RTI Producciones (Colombia). The script was based on a novel by Spanish author Arturo Pérez Reverte and depicts the rise of Teresa Mendoza, a young woman from Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, who becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in southern Spain. It seems likely that Mendoza is based on the example of Sandra Ávila Beltrón, alias the Queen of the Pacific, ex member of the Sinaloa cartel, who is currently in a Mexican prison waiting extradition to the US.

While undoubtedly showing how some women have become involved in drug gangs, neither screenplay could be said to accurately portray the complex realities of women’s experience in drug trafficking. Unsurprisingly, women’s participation in trafficking imitates their roles in other, more licit activities and clearly reflects Mexico’s dominant cultural attitudes towards them.

Many women are drawn into gangs via their partners. They have usually taken the role of administrators, although some exceptional women, like the fictitious Queen of the South and the real life, Queen of the Pacific, have been able to advance to active organizational and leadership roles. Often this leadership is founded on their authority as maternal figures, especially in those gangs who hierarchy is in the hands of one or more family. One example would be Enedina Arellano Félix, the alleged head of the Tijuana cartel, who is the sister of former gang leaders and mother to the supposed operational leader, Fernando Sánchez Arellano.

As partners and mothers, the biggest danger for female members of trafficking gangs is domestic, just as it is for women as a whole in Mexican society. A recent study by the Guerrero State Women’s Institute (an official body charged with the protection of women’s rights with branches in all Mexico’s states) claims for example, that women “executed” by the gangs are not murdered in relation to their trafficking activities, but rather in the context of their relationships with male drug gang members (CNN Mexico, 9 February 2011). In Mexico City, the director of the city government’s women’s shelter, says that the arrival of women fleeing from relationships with abusive traffickers is putting the refuge at risk, since the gangs do not limit themselves to threatening the individual women, but will threaten the shelter as a whole (El Universal, 25 November 2011).

As Mexican journalist and activist Lydia Cacho has documented (Sin Embargo, 10 November 2011), traffickers also kidnap, rape and enslave women, especially indigenous girls, for their own use and/or prostitution. She alleges that 45% of women who are rescued from brothels on the border with the United States are of indigenous origin, a great number of them little more than children. Cacho cites the case of the 12 year old daughter of Martina, an indigenous woman from Michoacán, who was stolen from her home by traffickers during an attack on their house in 2010. Martina has not heard from her since. According to one of her sources, this is a common practice among the traffickers of Michoacán, who use the girls as cooks, cleaners and as sexual slaves.

Finally, according to a recent report by the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico, (Diagnóstico de las Condiciones de vulnerabilidad que propician la Trata de Personas en México) the drug gangs also control people-trafficking, the second most profitable illegal trade in Mexico after drugs. Due to its geographical position, Mexico is the ideal route by which to ship people (and drugs) to the United States and Canada and its tourist hotspots in Cancun and other beach resorts, means it has a thriving internal market for trafficked women. In fact, Mexico is second only to Thailand for the number of women it traffics to the US.

The report calculates that 12 million people are victims of trafficking in Mexico, 79% of who are forced into prostitution. For its part, Federal government’s statistics (INEGI, 2009) suggest that women and children are the most vulnerable groups, especially those who are also migrants or of indigenous origin. Most migrants come from Central America, although it appears that a good number of women also come from Eastern Europe (Sin Embargo, 22 November 2011). Lydia Cacho claims that the traffickers also force homeless children in Cancun into prostitution (Cimac Noticias, 9 November 2011), while a report from the Guerrero State Women’s Institute suggests that many children are sold into prostitution by their fathers (Milenio, 22 November 2011).

This article was originally published at http://e-feminist.com/home/2012/4/25/violence-in-mexico-women-and-the-drug-traffickers.html

Filed under: Feminism, Violence Against Women, , , ,

The Continued Harassment of Margarita López Gomez

Margarita López Gómez, an indigenous women from Chiapas, Mexico, was recently released from prison after a sustained campaign by human rights activists. Margarita had been convicted of killing her partner and imprisoned for seven years based on a confession allegedly obtained during her interrogation, which she later repudiated repeatedly. It was also proved later that her partner was killed by someone else. The interrogation was conducted in Spanish, a language she did not speak at the time. For more details you can see my original posts here and here. It emerged this week that the terms of Margarita’s release include the requirement to go to the state capital, San Cristobal de las Casas each month to sign a report in the local prison. She must also send a monthly report of her work activities via registered mail every month. Her suspended prison sentence is due to expire in 2016. This might seem a small price to pay for her freedom, however Margarita lives in a small village many hours away from the state capital. She has a very ill mother and young children to care for and no settled means of income. Paying to go to San Cristobal each month is practically impossible for her, and makes it very likely she will be unable to meet the terms of her sentence. Margarita was wrongly convicted. The State of Chiapas kept her in prison seven years, a number of them in solitary confinement in a male prison, where she was raped and gave birth to her youngest child. The authorities released her in February due to the hard work of her lawyer and human rights activists in Chiapas and Mexico. However, with these terms it appears that the authorities continue to unfairly punish Margarita and her family and aim to return her to prison. This is scandalous and unacceptable.

Update 14 May 2012

The Centre for Woman’s Rights in Chiapas is organising a petition to send to the magistrate in charge of Margarita’s case, Dr. Juan Gabriel Coutiño Gomez, to ask him to grant her an unconditional release. See here for details. Please sign the petition -with an English language explication- on www.change.org

Source: http://www.cimacnoticias.com.mx/site/12050305-Imponen-a-indigena.49613.0.html

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , , , ,

Heart-Breaking Report from Chihuahua, Mexico by the NGO Justice for Our Daughters

This post is a report I recently translated for the NGO Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice For Our Daughters). It makes for sad reading. It also should be prefixed with a trigger warning.


The following pages outline some statistics about murder, sexual violence and disappearances which show the violent reality in which the women of the state of Chihuahua live. The information is taken from official sources, newspaper investigations and non-governmental organizations.

Murders of Women

Between 1993 to 2011 at least 1, 776 women and children have been violently murdered in the state of Chihuahua [1]. According to the Mexican Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía or INEGI), this region probably has the highest murder rate in the world for women, with 34.73 murders for every 100, 000 women [2].

Since 2008, the state of Chihuahua has the highest murder rate for women in Mexico [3]. There have been multiple recommendations from international organisations that the Mexican State guarantee the victims’ access to justice; that it take steps to punish those responsible; and, that it prevent these murders continuing. Despite this, the number of women murdered in 2009, 2010 and 2011 are unprecedented in the state’s history. In only one year (2011), more women have been murdered that in the whole of the previous decade [4].

While the government suggests that the increase in murders may be linked to the war it is undertaking against the drug traffickers in the region, three aspects of these murders worry local organizations. Firstly, the huge increase in the number of these crimes; secondly, the fact that none of these murders have been properly investigated; and thirdly, the obvious pattern and similarity between the crimes which suggest that they are the results of people trafficking. In February 2012 at least three bodies were recovered from a field in Praxexis Guerrero, in the state of Chihuahua.

  • Andrea Guerrero Venzor, 15 year old. Reported missing on 19 August 2010.
  • Jessica Leticia Peña García, 17 years old. Reported missing on 16 June 2010.
  • Lizbeth Aviles García, 17 years old. Reported missing 22 April 2009 [5].

In the case of these three missing girls, their mothers filed the required missing persons report, but the authorities failed to undertake their obligation to activate the Alba protocol or use another form of immediate search for the women and girls reported missing. This contravenes the Inter-American Court of Human Right’s order in this respect. From the girls’ files it is clear that the authorities did not undertake the search immediately or thoroughly. Quite the opposite, it is clear that they minimized the facts and limited themselves to writing the missing persons reports. As a result, the girls’ mothers carried out the search. In the field, the authorities have found various other bones but have been unable or unwilling to identify them.

Sexual violence

In the last four years, military presence has increased in the northern border and with it, every day dangers to the population. No measures have been implemented to reduce these risks, mostly in terms of abuse and the violation of women’s human rights. In April 2008, as a response to the increase in violence caused by organized crime in the region, the national government set in motion Operation All Chihuahua (Operative Conjunto Chihuahua). This was a joint operation between the military, federal and state police. However, this did not help to quell the violence. Statistical evidence shows the relation between these types of mixed operations and the increase in murders in some regions of Mexico [6].

As part of these operations, the Federal Government sent 9, 000 federal police and soldiers to the state of Chihuahua. However, the state did not foresee the consequences for women of the military/police occupation. According to official data, between March 2009 and April 2010, there were 1, 017 reports of abuse against the police and soldiers in Ciudad Juarez; that is to say three per day. Nearly half of these (445) were filed by women.

Just like the murder rate, sexual violence has incremented considerably. In 2011 alone, 698 people reported being the victims of sexual violence in the State, 598 were women; the majority of which (399), were younger than 17 years old [7]. Chihuahua is among the states with the highest rate of rape in Mexico. Between 2007 and 2011, an average of 727 reports of sexual violence were made each year. That is to say, two per day [8]. This figure could easily be other as a large number of victims do not report this type of crime for fear of being victimized once more or because of the high rate of impunity,

Disappeared Women

The number of women and girls who have disappeared in the state of Chihuahua has increased considerably. Many of these women are probably victims of people traffickers.

According to official figures obtained by local organisations, in 2011 alone, at least 91 women were reported missing (and remain missing today). Of these, 50 went missing in Ciudad Juarez. The graph shoes the drastic increase in the number of women reported missing in the State of Chihuahua and in Ciudad Juarez between 1993 and 2011. Of these women, 60% are minors. Girls between 13 and 17 make up the majority of cases [9]. Local NGOs believe that the women could be victims of people traffickers, deprived of their liberty for prolonged periods, and sexually assaulted before being murdered.

National Institutions Established to Help Female Victims of Violence

The creation of the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Comisión Nactional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra Mujeres or CONAVIM) and the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes of Violence Against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or FEVIMTRA), set up to help those affected by violence resulting from their gender has not led to better strategies to reduce violence against women or improve access to justice for victims of these crimes. The scant diffusion of these institutions’ objectives and the lack of control mechanisms implemented to evaluate their performance and effectiveness is very worrying. On a local level, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, has successfully lobbied for the creation of a special prosecutor’s office to deal with victims of gendered violence and femicide. However, NGOs are concerned that not enough resources are assigned to this office and their staff are not properly trained.

Penal Justice System

The State of Chihuahua was the first to change over to the accusatory system (oral trial system like that of the US) in 2007. Various NGOs participated in the drawing up of new legislation dealing with gendered violence and the inclusion of a number of articles designed to protect women’s and victims’ rights. This wide-ranging and unprecedented participation meant that Chihuahua has one of the most advanced laws on the subject of women’s human rights in Latin America. However, NGOs are worried by recently proposed laws that would go against this legislation and whose proposers exclude them from their discussion.

[1] Information obtained by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (JPNH) through freedom of information requests and a daily revision of newspaper articles.

[2] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010. As a reference point, the World Health Organization indicates that South Africa has the highest female murder rate with an indicator of 8.8 murders per 100, 000.

[3] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010.

[4] Between 1993 and 2003, between 260 and 370 women were murdered. Inter-American Court for Human Rights. González and others vs. Mexico (“Campo Algodonero” or Cotton Field Case). Sentence of 16 November 2009. C Series no. 205.

[5] The dates quoted were published by the Chief Prosecuting Officer of the State of Chihuahua (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado de Chihuahua) in January 2012.

[6] Source: Fernando Escalante, “Homicidios 2008-2009. La muerte tiene permiso,” Nexos, January 2011. (The operations began in 2007).

[7] Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer in response to a freedom of information request filed by JPNH on 8 February 2012 (folio 005352012).

[8] Source: Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública.

[9]Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer. This information is provided due to an order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

Press Release Justice for our Daughters, February 2012

Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico

8th March 2012

Release 03/12

For its immediate circulation

  • Figures show at least 56 women have been murdered in Chihuahua in 2012
  • Young girls’ disappearances show evidence of worrying similarities.

8th March 2012. Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico. – The organization Justicia para Nuestras Hijas has evidence that at least 56 women and girls have been murdered in Chihuahua State so far this year.

The NGO collates its evidence from the daily review of newspapers in order to build a true picture of the number of murders and disappearances in this state. They point out that this is a preliminarily figure and believe that this is very likely that more femicides have occurred. They still have not been allowed access to official databases and for that reason, they insist that the authorities present a monthly report giving an accurate account of how many murders of women are registered during this time period.

Among the murders logged by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas this month include those of four girls whose bodies were found in a field in Paxedis, near the town of Guerrero in Chihuahua State: Andrea Guerrero Venzor, 15, reported missing on 19 August 2010; Deysy Ramírez Muñoz, 16, reported missing on 22 July 2010; Jessica Leticia Peña García, 17, reported missing on 16 June 2010; and Lizbeth Aviles García, 17, reported missing on 22 April 2009.

This discovery shows how the murders of girls have a similar pattern and are generally preceded by their disappearance. The negligence shown by the authorities ten years ago again becomes apparent. It is particularly worrying that in the case of a number of women and girls who have been reported missing in the last few years, especially in 2009, 2010 and 2011, their disappearances show many similarities with those of the four girls murdered in Praxedis: a medium or low socioeconomic origins, aged between 13 and 19 and last seen in the northern part of the state, principally in Ciudad Juárez.

On this 8 March, the organization Justicia para Nuestras Hijas remembers the girls and women who have been murdered in Chihuahua State and whose aggressors remain without punishment. It also remembers the hundreds of those missing who cases have been neglected, despite the fact they could be in grave danger.

For more information, contact: Tel. +52 (614) 413-33-55



Filed under: Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

“I am just one example of the terrible life led by women in Chiapas” Margarita López Gómez

Margarita López Gómez was freed on 10 February, after spending seven years in prison for a crime she did not commit. She spent four years in a cage in a male prison, where was raped and became pregnant. In a press conference after her release (see story here). In a press conference following her release Margarita López Gómez rejected offers of psychological and economic assistance from the governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines Guerrero, and stated that:

In Chiapas women’s rights are not respected, even less so if they are indigenous, poor and don’t speak Spanish. Mr. Governor I don’t want your help. I have my hands, I have my feet to work for my children. During your government you and your functionaries ignored me and didn’t offer anything for me or my children. I am free today thanks to national and international solidarity which showed how far injustice can be taken.


They [the state government] want to help me in order to have their photo taken which me and benefit from the publicity, forgetting that they have had me unjustly imprisoned for seven years. I am just one example of the terrible life led by women in Chiapas.

Accompanied by her 78 year old mother and four of her six children, Margarita said she was pleased by the solidarity offered by many people via social networks and their campaign for her release. She also expressed her anger towards the state of Chiapas, which kept her locked up and marginalized for so long.

During the press conference her lawyer, Martha Figueroa indicated that in Chiapas there were at least 250 documented cases of indigenous women imprisoned unfairly due to irregularities in their prosecution.

Sources: https://hidingunderthebedisnottheanswer.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/freedom-for-margarita/#comment-84


Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , ,

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