Mothers by force: What women from El Salvador suffer due to gangs

Under threats and constant vigilance, Salvadoran women are forced to take care of the children of gang members

Mothers by force: What women from El Salvador suffer due to gangs

Gang violence in El Salvador charges at least 10 fatalities every day. According to official figures, granted by the general director of the National Civil Police of El Salvador, between January and May this year 1,498 people were killed. But in addition to these alarming figures a new scourge begins to be known: dozens of young women are forced to become substitute mothers of the children of gang members.

Leer en español: Madres por obligación: otra consecuencia de las pandillas en El Salvador


This was revealed by an investigation published in the Central American magazine Factum where, after at least two years of observations and study, it was evidenced how gang control penetrates the homes of families that are not involved in the conflict.


According to explanations by Bryan Avelar, researcher of FACTum and who discovered such an aberrant practice, the women chosen as surrogate mothers are mostly between 18 and 25 years old, live in humble families, are single or have been abandoned by the father of their children. Although they live in communities controlled by organized crime, they are not linked to gangs and are not involved with gang members.


The children are usually newborns whose parents are on the street working for the gang or in jail. The infants are delivered to the chosen surrogate mother, accompanied only by a mobile phone and a death threat in case something happens to the child.


As Avelar explains, women are obliged to receive minors without questioning. They must continue with their daily lives without reporting what happened, nor receive aid from the State, institutions that defend human rights or gang members themselves.


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Why are they chosen?


According to the researcher, the children are handed over to women without links to the criminal structure to avoid minors being removed by the police during raids or killed during a confrontation.


However, these infants grow without documents, without guarantees and probably without education. In addition, children can not go to school or to the doctor for lack of legal documentation, as one of the women investigated under the protection of identity tells Avelar. Exposing them to any of these scenarios could mean that the government takes them away, which would represent a death sentence for the woman.


These babies, who are the reason many women become mothers at the moment they open the door, are not a "blessing" at all. And, although women come to develop a maternal appreciation of children over time, they know that the child will always be a threat.


A child is synonymous of death


Brayan Avelar related during an interview to the program La Tarde de NTN24 that the scourge of surrogate mothers had been discovered by mistake. Since it was investigating the displacement caused by gangs in El Salvador. During the gathering of numerous information the experts encountered several women who had been forced to become surrogate mothers who were under careful surveillance and constant threat.


So far, there are no exact figures on the number of women subject to this condition since, due to the danger they face, many of these young women prefer to remain silent. Talking about it could mean the murder of a relative or his own death.


Only in the research carried out by FACTum, 15 cases were known in a single community, but it is estimated that there could be dozens more distributed in at least three communities and those responsible could be more than one gang.


Under total control of crime


In El Salvador, the State has tried to regain control of some sectors more vulnerable to organized crime. Although there are frequent raids, police presence and constant searches, it is the gangs that have control over the communities.


As reported by the BBC in a recent article, in El Salvador gang leaders decide "what kind of clothes should be used in a territory, what music to listen to and how loud, who enters and who leaves, who lives and who dies, who she is the surrogate mother of a child who enters a home as a symbol of tragedy, fear, submission and death."


LatinAmerican Post | Krishna Jaramillo

Translated from 'Madres por obligación: otra consecuencia de las pandillas en El Salvador

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