• The San Juan Daily Star

Measures filed to declare a national emergency on child abuse

Rep. Denis Márquez Lebrón

More than 10,000 cases since 2016 remain in limbo

By The Star Staff

Reps. Denis Márquez Lebrón and Jesús Manuel Ortiz González announced on Thursday the filing of two bills aimed at confronting the crisis of violence against children in Puerto Rico.

The move came after the Family Secretary Carmen Ana González Magaz acknowledged in a public hearing that she has 10,458 referrals of possible abuse that have not been attended to since 2016 and, in the opinion of the lawmakers, the official did not present proposals to address the situation.

“In the first place, we are filing House Bill 1333 along with colleague Jesús Manuel Ortiz to declare, once and for all, a state of emergency in Puerto Rico due to child violence,” Márquez Lebrón said at a press conference. “Creating an advisory entity that has community participation, that has the participation of professionals, but that obliges the Family Department, the Office of Budget and Management, and the Treasury Department to carry out all the necessary fundamental actions necessary to address this serious problem in the country.”

Márquez Lebrón said the bill forces the Family Department to recruit social workers with fair wages.

“Similarly, the [bill] mandate[s] that they continue to investigate and inform the Legislature of disappeared minors in Puerto Rico, in the custody of the Family Department,” the Puerto Rican Independence Party lawmaker added. “And in third place, this measure also includes the matter of what cases of sexual mistreatment of girls and boys in Puerto Rico that are not registered have been identified in Puerto Rico. Years go by and they are not filed by the Department of Justice and they always have an excuse for it.”

Ortiz González maintained meanwhile that “after the public hearing we held at the Government Committee, information emerged indicating that almost 70 percent of the referrals received by the [Family] department are not attended to.”

“It is not that they are rejected, it is not that they are treated poorly, it is that many of them -- almost seven out of 10 -- are not treated,” the Popular Democratic Party legislator said. “It’s that they have 28 workers to receive complaints throughout Puerto Rico. That [the agency] lacks more than 200 or 300 social workers to attend to and analyze more than 30 to 40 cases for each social worker, when we know that a reasonable measure should be between 10 and perhaps 20 cases. We are talking about a part of the population that cannot defend itself and the government has failed it greatly, administration after administration. This is a subject in which everyone has failed for a long time.”

The second measure is House Bill 1334, which would include in the legislation for the protection of minors a definition of child torture that does not exist in Puerto Rican legislation.

“For the purposes of this measure, we define child torture as any intentional and cruel act, incurred by the father, mother or person who has custody of the minor that causes or threatens to cause serious pain or suffering, whether physical or mental,” Márquez Lebrón said.

As examples of torture he mentioned “intentionally starving them, forcing them to sit in urine or feces, repeatedly physically injuring them, exposing them to extreme temperatures without proper clothing, locking them in closets or other small spaces.”

“Limiting their freedom of movement in any way,” he added. “Perpetuating recurring sexual abuse, subjecting them to solitary confinement, and more.”

Dr. Yanira Carmona, director of the Biopsychosocial Program of the Medical Sciences Campus of Integrated Service Centers for Minors Who Are Victims of Sexual Abuse, or CIMVAS, and spokespersons for the Peace for Children Coalition participated in the press conference.

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