Monday 12th February 2018
You know what it´s like when you fall into a deep sleep and then the phone rings and you are not sure if it’s the dream or if you need to get up and answer the phone? Saturday night was one of those nights when I had been asleep for an hour when the phone rings a few minutes after midnight. I answer the phone and only hear women screaming at each other, but the person who is making the call is one of the families we have been helping and so I knew something was not right.
I tried my best to get someone to talk with me but after about a minute of screaming the phone went dead. I lay back on my bed and wondered if this call was made in error but all of a sudden it rang again and this time I was asked to go to a home in La Terminal right away in order to help keep a little boy safe.
Earlier in the week one of the young girls in our mentoring centre had asked me if she could receive some advice. She told me of a lady in a neighbouring shack who looks after children and how another lady, who works as a sex-worker, had dropped off a young boy and had not returned. The lady was now treating the boy badly and she wanted to know what we could do to help. Soon after we finished talking a neighbour of the lady sent me a message telling me the same thing and sending me photos of the little boy´s face and head with the various wounds visible and asking me if we could make a formal complaint with the authorities.
Sadly the authorities, who should act to save the children from abuse and neglect, seem rather underfunded and over-worked and so I knew their response would take time. What I was not expecting was the call in the middle of the night to tell me the situation had deteriorated and the little boy was now at great risk and the lady who is “looking after him” is now very drunk and taking it out on the boy.
I head to The Terminal and when I arrive two police officers are already there and trying to take some form of statement from the lady who is holding the child and has been allegedly abusing him. I have to listen to countless versions of what has been going on but it seems that the mother of the boy has abandoned the child in order to keep working. The lady being interviewed is drunk and aggressive but the police do their best to keep her calm.
After a short time I phone our super-hero, Juan Carlos, who knows everything about the law and what should be done and he tells me he is on his way, as is Ben Soden who is also hearing about the situation and wants to come and support.
I overhear one of the police officers telling the lady that even though the child is not hers, and she can´t produce any documentation that he has been left in her care by the real mother, that if she promises to stop hitting the child then they will leave it there. This is where I need to intervene and explain to the police their legal obligations, which leads them to take the child away and give it to another mother in a similar situation next door. The police officer tells me that since this other lady is not drunk the child will be safe and we should leave it there.
However, the lady who was abusing the child is becoming very aggressive and when I begin to talk with the police she starts to push me and then pull at my jacket to plead with me not to take this to court. I have to ignore her pleas and explain to the two police officers that they are not acting within the law! This grabs their attention and I need to make clear the legal process of dealing with situations like this, which includes removing the boy and placing him into their protective custody, taking him immediately to the court and making a formal statement about the child.
The police then leave and call for backup and within a couple of minutes more police officers arrive into the dimly-lit forecourt where numerous families have setup home in tin and block shacks and share a sink, toilet and shower. It is grim even in the daylight but the darkness of night covers over some of the desperate conditions but highlights new ones like the coming and going of men who come for sex with young women. There is now a female police officer and they have decided that action is what is required.
The lady who has been abusing the boy is now becoming more violent and so I have to step into a fight between her and another lady and try and keep them apart while they scratch at each other, try and exchange punches and all manner of abuse. The police then arrest the lady who is obviously not going easily. She puts up a fight as they try and handcuff her and push her to the ground and begin to punch her in the face. The situation is getting out of hand and Juan Carlos and Ben arrive in time for us to focus now on the little boy who is crying in one of the shacks.
We discover that the original officers were not keen to pursue action as their shift was ending and so the reinforcements were now starting the new shift and keen to help us to keep the little boy safe. Ben and me pick up the little boy and try and comfort him while one of the new officers seems to know the score and asks us to accompany him to the court to make a statement. Ben cradles the little boy tenderly in his arms and goes in the police car while Juan Carlos and me follow on behind.
Thankfully the little boy is safe but it takes a little longer to get to court due to a shooting in the main street that leads to the court and police have now cordoned off the area. The reality of living in Guatemala City slaps me in the face again and we follow the police up one-way streets - the wrong way - and eventually arrive at the court that deals with children. We are given a warm welcome after being searched for weapons and short statements are taken and I manage to get the little boy laughing and feeling comfortable.
Ben tells me that he will hopefully now grow up with no memory of this event and should be taken into adoption or into a caring children´s home. He remains a boy with no name and we pray God´s protection over him and hand him over to the nursery worker. Now comes the tough bit as we finish the legal process and will now need to re-build relationships in the community where the event took place. It is hard where we can be seen as the bad people who come and take children away, but we have to make it clear we can´t, and the law does not allow us to, stand by and allow children to be neglected and abused. Just another day on the streets!