4 de Julio: Un caso de abandono

When you ask people in La Paz and El Alto whether there are many children abandoned in Bolivia, they will often comment on the infants that are left in garbage heaps.  I have always been under the impression that so many cite these cases not because they are common circumstances in which children are abandoned, but because they are so horrible that they make a lasting impression.  The garbage bin stories, however, seem to be sometimes true–last Thursday, La Paz’s daily La Razón reported on a two-month-old child that died after being found in a garbage can.

One of the questions I often ask people in Bolivia is why some individuals facing unwanted pregnancy abandon their children rather than having an abortion during the pregnancy.  Many believe that those who abandon their infants are typically adolescents who were unable or unwilling to “deal” with their pregnancies during the gestational period. Others, such as some orphanage workers, note that many abandoned children suffer from a variety of physical and psychological disorders that may have been factors in their abandonment.  Differently abled children or those who suffer from physical deformities not only present challenges to parents that they may not feel willing or able to face, but they also may suffer discrimination due to societal taboos.

The two-month-old that was discovered about two weeks ago in a garbage bin close to the El Alto airport had Down’s Syndrome and a cleft lip.  While Down’s Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that can cause some developmental disabilities, cleft lip is a genetic deformity that can be treated with surgery, usually shortly after birth.  When the child was discovered by a market vendor, he was still alive, but suffered from respiratory difficulties due to malnutrition and exposure.  After being treated unsuccessfully at two El Alto hospitals, the infant died last Sunday.

This story sparks compassion in me from many angles.  On the one hand, it is crushing to realize that disability is burdened by so much discrimination in Bolivia that many children–not just this one–are abandoned due to it.  On the other hand, in the poorest country in South America, parents raising children with abnormalities enjoy very little state support, even when these kids’ conditions are treatable, such as the cleft lip.

Finally, we must return to the image of the garbage bin.  Why do some who abandon their children choose to leave them in garbage bins? While the idea of a parent leaving their child in a garbage can obviously sparks the thought that the parent thinks of their child as something unwanted and disposable, the reality could actually be quite different–perhaps parents leave their kids here because they know it’s a place where the child is likely to be found, either by neighbors or city workers.  Or maybe they leave their kids here because, despite the filth, it is a communal place where any person may take responsibility of the child–rather than leaving him or her on an individual doorstep, which targets one family as the new caretakers.  In any case, this story sparked a sort of realization in me this week–not only do these stories of garbage bin abandonment indeed leave an impression; sometimes, they are true.

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