In Chile, concepts such as mistreatment, abuse and violations of children’s rights are inevitably associated with the poorest socioeconomic strata. However, in some of the country’s wealthiest families, where the National Minors’ Service, Sename, is a distant figure, there are minors who also suffer negligence, beatings, and both psychological and sexual abuse that are eventually more difficult to find and intervene. Here, what people might say is an important curb to any report, so it is common to keep silence. Paradoxically enough, it seems that the most privileged are the most vulnerable to this problem.

By Tania Opazo.
May 3, 2019


It was five o'clock in the morning and I.M.'s father was returning home to Las Condes, a high-class commune in Santiago, after a long business trip to China. “What did you learn yesterday at school?” he asked the six-year-old, waking him up. Confused, half asleep, he replied: “To add.” “Tell me how much is two and three,” then asked the man. I.M. felt he had butterflies in his stomach. He knew something bad was about to happen. “Seven?” he said hesitant.

His father grabbed him by the arm and took him to the bathroom. He turned on the shower and put him in pajamas in the icy water. Then he sat him on his desk. “Go study now!!,” he ordered, and put a blank workbook in front of him. “I had to fill two columns per page of: 2+3=5, 2+3=5 and so on, in all sheets, on both sides, until I filled the workbook,” the 28-year-old recalls today.

For as long as he can remember, he underwent the most diverse abuse at the hands of his father. The shouting and the insults were just the beginning: "You're stupid, you're moron," he kept repeating to him. Then came the hitting: the hits to the tables, to the walls and, of course, the beating both to him and his three sisters. “Punches, slaps, smacks on the back of the neck, shoves. He beat the hell out of me,” he summarizes. The first time he kicked him out of the house? Seven years. Finally, he endured the sexual abuse, the touching, which he tolerated way into his adolescence. He wasn't the only victim though. “My dad waited for everyone to fall asleep and went into my twin sister's room,” he says.

That time marked I.M. forever. “In my house, there was no possibility of having an opinion. Since I come from a Jewish family, I know the analogy may sound tough, but it was like living with Hitler. My house was almost Auschwitz.”

Among healthcare providers, educators, lawyers, and other experts who work in family environments like I.M.'s, and who research childhood issues, this young man's story does not come as much of a surprise. “I've had to see cases and I've heard about others, where I've been asked for advice from psychologists or school principals,” says the lawyer and former director of Sename Francisco Estrada.

“It's an invisible phenomenon in the sense that parents with the resources will prevent the case from going into the court system or only allow it when there's some kind of interest for them.”

Francisco Estrada , lawyer

According to Felipe Lecannelier, a child development psychologist and physician, there is, undoubtedly a hidden figure concerning violations of rights in children and adolescents (NNA) of the upper socioeconomic stratum, or ABC1. “We would love to have more data, but, unlike the lower strata, where you go to community health centers and you can check the records, interview the patients, nobody will provide us with that information at private clinic and those families will refuse to be assessed,” explains the researcher from Universidad de Santiago.

However, there is one report that reveals the subtle differences of mistreatment among social classes. Dated back to 2012, this report was made by UNICEF and is the last of its kind that considered the variable of social stratum. While psychological violence reaches 17.3% in the lower level, it rises to 23.2% in the high stratum. In contrast, severe physical violence occurs at 27.2% at the low level and 24.2% at the high level. The phenomenon is clearly present across all levels.

“There is the image that the poor is stupid, alcoholic, drug addict, abuser, a beater, but when you start to see these data by socioeconomic level, you don't find so many differences,” says Lecannelier, who found that the children at the highest and lowest strata had the same prevalence of mental issues in one of his latest studies.

“Indeed, there is a perception that this doesn't happen, or it rarely occurs, but there are a lot more cases than one would believe,” says Andrea von Hoveling, a Pediatric and Adolescent gynecologist at Santa María Clinic and El Carmen Hospital, of Maipú. “When I say that I encounter cases of sexual abuse, people immediately assume that they are from my work at the hospital and I have to clarify that they are not, that they are patients of the clinic or people close to me.”

Estimates from Fundación para la Confianza, that works with sexual abuse victims, points out that for every sexual abuse report, 25 are silenced. For this reason, José Andrés Murillo, executive director of the institution, believes that the figures should be similar with other types of abuse, “or perhaps more,” because they are not always understood as a violation of rights and are overlooked.

While this phenomenon has been mostly associated with the lowest social strata in our society, different circumstances have contributed into slowly making this phenomenon more visible.

“Undoubtedly, we get more cases from the ABC1 group,” says family judge Verónica Ortiz. Her perception is that the phenomenon is related to the amendment of the shared tuition Act. Since that year, there has been a clear rise in the number of Child Custody and Visitation cases.

In addition, since mid-2017, family judges have progressively opted to appoint guardians ad litem to these types of cases, after the court dismissed a Child Custody trial arguing that a guardian should have been appointed.

“When the guardians entered these cases two years ago, they realized that these proceedings often involved a minor who is being mistreated by one or both parties,” says Francisco Estrada.

Ester Valenzuela, executive director of the Centro Iberoamericano de Derechos del Niño, CIDENI (Iberoamerican Center of Child’s Rights) and guardian ad litem, has been part of this process. Initially, most of its cases were for child protection and with minors of very low resources, but she has begun to increasingly encounter this other type of cases.

In these contentious cases, which are for matters such as alimony, personal care and visitation, Valenzuela says that many times you see “an enormous animosity between parents and that, in the midst of that conflict, children are totally invisible and violated.”

Attorney-at-Law, Paula Correa, also guardian ad litem, adds that these parents have lawyers "some of them very prestigious, which are very active and with a more confrontational profile.” This usually extends the proceedings and makes the guardian's task of visibilizing and safeguarding the rights of the child much more complex.

In addition to this scenario, the minors themselves are more aware of their rights. "This is a generation that now understands what is happening to them, unlike adults who only now understand what happened to them years ago," says child and adolescent psychiatrist Pilar del Río, who, in addition to attending to children and adolescents in her private practice, advises schools on issues of mistreatment and abuse. But this recognition, she adds, also comes with a huge frustration of being defenseless against these abuses.

“You see this family, all blond, blue-eyed, with surnames that are hard to pronounce, big house, multiple cars, good schools, trips across the globe… How are these children going to be unhappy? For me, it was all a disguise, living in that house was always martyrdom.”


It was only at the age of 16 that I.M. began to understand that the life he led, the mistreatment he suffered, was not normal. One day, he defended himself.

“I came back from social work at school and I had to bring home a classmate's notebook to study, to review his notes, I don't remember it well.”

- Where's your classmate's notebook? - asked his father.
- My classmate didn't take it, he forgot it.
- And what did I tell you?
- To bring my classmate's notebook.

His dad started shouting. First, he hit the table and then him. “I recall being sit, covering my head. Then the chair staggered, and when he came back, I pushed him, and I got him off. He lost his balance and hit the wall.”

I.M. grabbed his wallet and ran out of the house. He ran non-stop from the avenue Presidente Riesco, in Las Condes, to Puente Nuevo, in La Dehesa (about 6.5 miles). “It was too much adrenaline. I ran until my legs were gone and I fell to the floor. I called a friend who lived in San Carlos de Apoquindo (5 miles away) and asked him if I could go to his house, without saying anything. I don't even remember which path I took; only that I ran again. I ran and ran.”

Perfect Families

The sidewalks were empty that morning, and no one peeped through those high fences and walls that surrounded the neighboring houses. The order was clear: go for a walk around the block, jogging, wearing his underwear only. Even in that loneliness, the humiliation was obvious.

“The boy, who was 12 years old, had not been chosen to be part of the team for a match. His father was a good sportsman and he cared a lot that his son was also a good sportsman, but the little boy had other interests,” recalls a lawyer who asks not to reveal his identity.

Judges, lawyers, guardians. Everyone has a case they especially remember, a case that was a major concern for them, a case that moved them. Underlying each of these cases emerges the profile of demanding parents, concerned about status and appearances, and who despite their high educational levels and successful careers still seem to lack the parental skills needed by their children.

I.M. recalls that while his sisters recited the books to his father by heart, he was a “disaster.” Although he excelled for his verbal and social skills, and was a pre-selected national rugby player, he suffered from dyslexia and dyslalia, making him “lazy and stupid,” according to his dad. These skills did not interest his father.

“In my house, being good wasn't enough. We were trained to be the best, to surpass the rest, to excel from the rest, to be excellent.”

Francisca is a social worker and has worked in several foundations and support groups for minors. She knows that stereotypes are sometimes unfair, but recognizes certain common patterns in these families: a father on frequent business trips, a mother with lots of classes and workshops, children who spend a lot of time with domestic workers or by themselves.

The children reflect the success of the parents, they are buttonholes, explains Francisca. “There is a huge pressure on the kids to address those expectations, the parents expect them to be CEO at 30 and they feel that they are not going to live up to the expectations, because they like cooking, for example.”

A similar perception is held by child psychologist Sofía Hales, who worked at Fundación Integra, an institution that manages part of the preschool State offer, and today treats minors from the ABC1 group through play therapy. Girls as young as seven visit her at her office, distressed, telling her that they can't eat anything, which they have to be thin for a gymnastics competition. “For parents, it's not about participating and having fun, it's about winning," and for the children, if they fail to live up to their expectations, they get scolded: “How can you not play the ball!” “Why don't you get good grades at school?”

The lack of knowledge about children's rights of parents is such that shouting and insults are seen as a “normal” correction. The child is also seen as an object that belongs to them and is subject to their decisions.

Punishments can be very extreme, says psychiatrist Pilar del Río. Isolating them from contact for months, confining them without a phone - at an age where socialization is a key part of their development, she notes - and even taking their medication or therapy away, because “they see it as a whim or as if they were coming to accuse them.”

This becomes more apparent when schools refer children to psychologists and psychiatrists. They are cataloged as problematic, enraged, with attention deficit disorder, and “the expectation of the establishment is that they are controlled and, hopefully, medicated,” says Sofia Hales.

Most of the time, she adds, what really happens is that the children do not fit the profile of the elite schools chosen by their parents or are expressing frustration at the lack of care they are getting. “When the requirements are not adjusted to their levels of development, psychopathologies or disruptive behaviors eventually emerge. One sees a lot of stress and sorrow. Very deep sorrow,” she concludes.

Felipe Lecannelier and his team asked 17-year-olds “in a school with a very high socioeconomic stratum, which for the same reason I cannot name,” how much quality time they spent with their parents every week (without tablets, cell phones or television, that is, a real interaction) and the answer was 15 minutes with the mother and 12 minutes with the father. “There's very little connection,” he reflects.

It's an environment where parents outsource all the tasks they can. The children have private teachers, educational psychologists, psychologists, occupational therapists, attend multiple workshops, etc. “Parents are detached, take very little responsibility for what happens to their children and know very little about them,” says Irene, an educational psychologist who has been working in elite schools for almost 15 years.

In her observation, parents are very over demanded for maintaining certain economic and social appearances. As a result of their overwork and social activities, children are completely left aside.

They are families with the wrong priorities. You see them impeccably dressed, in cars of the year, but they change the children from one school to another because they don't have money to pay and they leave debts in all of them.”

Irene, educational psychologist

In her more than 30 years as a Spanish teacher in private schools in the uptown sector of Santiago, Ana has seen children who arrive extremely late or whose parents forget to pick them up at the end of the day, without their school supplies or homework done, with broken or changed shoes, or obvious lack of hygiene.

Something very typical at the end of the year, she says, is those parents come to school to look for their children's transcripts “and they don't know what grade their children are in.”

At the age of 18, when I.M.'s parents split up, he dared for the first time to speak openly about the mistreatment he had received. He also filed a report at the prosecutor's office, receiving criticism and recriminations. “My sisters were pissed off because my dad was paying their university tuition fees. Everyone told me that I was damaging the family’s good name, bringing shame on the family name. Lame excuses.”

The Fear

"Say you fell out of the scooter," his mother told five-year-old Felipe before getting into the school van. "I don't really remember much about what happened that day," says the boy, who is now 10.

His father, Gaston, fills the gaps in his story. That day it was his turn to pick him up from school. When he saw him, the question was instant: What happened to your face? “I overslept and got late, and then my mother got angry and bit me,” answered her son.

Gaston and Felipe's mother had a brief relationship and became parents at the age of 19. “She was always very intense and stubborn,” he says. After fighting with her family, who lives in a wealthy area of Las Condes, mother and son went to live alone in an apartment, “and things got complicated from there on,” says the father.

“When there were more people, nothing happened, but if we were alone I was always afraid to do something that would make her angry. She used to hit me and shout at me a lot. I always felt like I was doing something wrong,” says Felipe, who was four at the time. “Do it right, if not, don't do it,” repeated his mother.

That day of the bite was the turning point. "I immediately filed a report. There were long months where she made it difficult for me to see him, he told Felipe that I wanted to put her in jail and that he would never see me again," recalls Gastón.

When they were together, he noticed that the situation was getting worse: Felipe was always bruised. The boy had to take care of his younger sister, who was the daughter of a new partner of his mother, and if the baby cried or peed through her diaper because he “had diapered her wrong,” she would beat and punish him. “I made her milk and I had to keep her quiet if my mother was working,” explains the child.

It was after a holiday to the south that Gaston decided to sue for the personal custody of his son. During that trip, Felipe, aged seven at the time, told him in detail about the mistreatment. “He cried for about an hour and a half, non-stop. I blamed myself a lot for all the time he had endured in silence.”.

There's a sense of degradation, of a loss that's not monetary.

José Andrés Murillo, Fundación para la Confianza.

Silencing comes from the environment, not from the victim, and it is not the victim's fault, says José Andrés Murillo. "They believe they are going to be exposed to social criticism, stigma, and loss of social standing, belonging.” A woman once told him that she didn't want “anyone to know that her son had been a victim of abuse, because then ‘Larraín's son or daughter wasn't going to look at him.’” When sexual abuse reports against former priest Fernando Karadima began to emerge, others told him, “It wasn't that bad, why are you exposing yourself like this?” Not a few even confessed to him that they preferred to silence their own cases because they did not want to turn into another “Murillo or Hamilton.”

The testimonies he shares are consistent with the Child Sexual Abuse Prevalence survey in the Metropolitan Region that Fundación para la Confianza released last December. This survey confirms that the socioeconomic group that least dares to reveal an abuse is the ABC1 group.

The network that silences the violation begins, of course, in the family. “My mother spread her fear so that we would all hush up,” says I.M. Once, her sister said she would report her father to the authorities, after repeatedly hitting her arm for not cleaning the carpet, leaving her arm full of bruises. Her mother's response? “Are you out of your mind? Just imagine what he could do next, how he may react.”

Attorney-at-Law Francisco Estrada recalls the case of certain parents who asked him for advice. His daughter had been mistreated by a classmate at a very prestigious school. They didn't want to do anything against the school or the boy, but just to resolve the matter in particular. “I googled the name of the assaulter and he was the son of a prominent businessman. Both the director and the girl's family were scared, because the school was not going to hesitate who to choose from either them or that family.”

How far do parents go to hide a situation they believe may affect their status? Ana, the teacher, recalls a case where there was such an uproar that the family decided to withdraw the boy from school and take him abroad.

Carmen is 64 years old and has a long record of abuse that her family kept silent. “My mother used to hit us with her fists, her feet, with objects. I still remember seeing my younger siblings, aged seven and eight, trying to protect their heads while my mom kicked them.” She suffered depression for the first time at the age of 12 and had several suicide attempts.

It was her ex-husband who continued the abuse. Postpartum depression and financial abuse followed (her partner forced her to sign papers in which she assigned the management of almost all of her property).

“In the ABC1 family, it seems that the most important thing is that nobody knows. Shame is a thousand times more important than the safety of children and women.”

Carmen, 64

She says that many times, if parents split up, women are left with nothing. Because this also has implications for their children, those mothers are forced to postpone or simply dismiss that option.

I.M. also suffered that financial abuse. “If you don't go out to eat with me, I'm going to fuck up your mom and sisters with money,” his dad once threatened him. At that dinner, after five minutes of arguing, the boy stood up and left. “Dad took one hundred thousand pesos (around 140 USD) away from mom because you are not following the rules," one of his sisters berated him once he got back home.

Children from the ABC1 group are quite isolated, experts say, and when faced to silencing families, the role of schools and health centers is very important.

However, those environments are also filled with fear. Fear of an angry client, says psychologist Sofia Hales, who can put you in a complex situation with your boss. “I've met teachers who have tried to file a report. Parents complain and the principal believes them, shrouding any possibility of mistreatment, while also leaving the professional in a very questioned position,” she says.

Ana says the fear to the parents is real. She believes that it involves keeping the institution’s good name, not losing its prestige, not scaring parents. “Let’s not forget that, in several cases, the ties also extend to work, and family, social and religious life, so it is always advisable to maintain an appearance of normalcy.”

“We work with extremely posh schools,” says Jose Andres Murillo, “and some of them told us that they do not file reports because once they got sued for 400 million Chilean pesos (around 563,480 USD) and almost go bankrupt.”

This is why Irene, in her work as an educational psychologist, always tries to mediate. “Doing it on the best terms, because many times parents find it difficult to recognize that they are not handling parenting very well, that they are doing it wrong.” Sometimes they refuse to give psychological reports where complicated matters emerge, “and you have no way of knowing.” If you go against the parents, she adds, they will close the doors and you will not be able to reach that child, who will be deprived of any support.

“Obviously, not all parents are like this. There are some who are very concerned about their children, but I wish they were more," she says.

A similar scenario occurs in health centers. If the adult who pays for the child’s care does not like what he or she is hearing, s/he may simply change clinic or healthcare provider. “I worked in a private facility and received what might be called ‘threats,’ especially in cases of sexual abuse and mistreatment. I saw very frightened or openly traumatized children and a lot of uncontrolled parents,” says Felipe Lecannelier. That's when you hear phrases like “let's handle it with care,” “it's better not to know” or “this is not beneficial for anyone,” recalls the psychiatrist.

Although clinics have protocols for handling these cases, pediatrician Fernando Gonzalez, president of the Children's Commission of the Chilean College of Physicians, admits that in the private sector there is a “transactional” relationship that may lead to a conflict of interest with respect to the child’s rights. “The priority should be the minor, but the risk of losing one’s job could push a professional to remain silent and let it slip.”

Gynecologist Andrea von Hoveling believes this scene is slowly changing. “I have felt well supported for filing a report, but I know colleagues from other institutions who have been afraid to talk to their bosses. That barrier must be broken down.”

Schools have also begun to take action on the issue. “They are taking mistreatment seriously and abandoning that view of 'I better not do anything because it's going to be worse or the parent is going to complain' because of the bullying situations. The case of the girl Winter -a student at the Nido de Águilas school who committed suicide in May 2018 at age 16- disrupted them all,” says Francisco Estrada, who says that the 10 top establishments from the ABC1 group have inquired him or other experts to review their coexistence protocols and determine what to do in the event of detecting a violation.

Today, Felipe lives with his father and attends a school near Apoquindo Avenue, where he plays basketball and goes to boy scouts. Although he was only a preschooler at the time, he blames himself for failing to alert the mistreatment he underwent sooner. “It makes me angry. Why didn't I say it sooner? It would have been better if I had said it sooner,” he reflects.

I.M. recalls every time an adult asked him with some concern how he was doing and he replied “fine.” He was sincere: “What was going every day at my house was the usual. It was not a particular experience, but it was just the day to day.” He wouldn't dare to judge anyone for not having done something to protect him.

But Sofia Hales is critical of those professionals who, suspecting a violation, fail to act in time. “Nobody is saying it's easy, but if you're not willing to take risks, don't work with children, because we're their voice, they need us.”

Absent System

An unknown call. A familiar voice, but impossible to recognize. Josefina (53) barely managed to ask: “But are you sure? How do you know this?”

- I am almost certain that the Madame is giving medicines to the girl. She is giving her Klonopin to make her sleep. Please, do something about it- it was heard from the other end.

The person on the other side of the phone was one of the nannies of Amalia's mother, Josefina's granddaughter. The grandmother never knew which of them dared to speak up, but her accusation triggered a turning point in their lives. Only a few weeks ago, after several years of temporary custody of the girl, Josefina was granted definitive care. She says she is relieved.

Today, Amalia is six years old and as her grandmother recalls, she watches cartoons on Netflix from the other side of the room. “Just a little while,” she says to the girl, and resumes her story, in a low voice, so that the little girl does not listen. “She was three years old when this happened. I couldn't believe it. With my son, we knew that his ex-partner, Amalia's mother, was addicted to alcohol, but we never imagined anything like it.”

At that time, Amalia was going to a kindergarten located on Las Condes and Josefina was going to look at her during the recess. With a lot of persistence, she managed the little girl, who lived with her mother and grandparents in Vitacura, to visit her home in La Reina. When she checked the clothing change that was sent to her granddaughter, Josefina noticed that it was very dirty and torn. Then she thought: “If you have four nannies in the house, how can you fail to at least send her clean clothes?”

Josefina went for the girl one day. “Come in, she's still sleeping,” said the mother. It was almost 10 o'clock in the morning and Josefina was surprised: when she arrived, the girl usually ran to greet her. “It took me a while to wake her up and I thought, Could it be true?” The next time they got together they went with Amalia's father to do a blood test. Five days later the results were out: the little girl had traces of the tranquilizer clonazepam in her blood.

We didn't have any culture or knowledge of what you're supposed to do with a problem like that. I used to relate this kind of stuff to the children of Sename or very low-income people, but there are so many ways of violating children and it happens everywhere.”

Josefina, 53

Both the grandmother and the father were desperate and didn't know what to do. They finally got assistance at the Office for the Protection of Rights (OPR) of La Reina. They were well off, but hiring a lawyer was too expensive.

The Offices for the Protection of Right (OPR) has been labeled by many as “Sename’s gateway.” That's usually where violations are first detected. Whether by spontaneous demand (relatives or acquaintances of the child who arrive asking for help), local networks (public health centers, schools) or referrals from courts, the children and their families come to the OPRs to be evaluated and draft “descriptive reports,” which determine the following actions, where the OPR is not in charge.

The vast majority of the country's districts (called communes) have an OPR. In La Reina it is relatively recent and has been in operation since 2015. Providencia also has one and Las Condes has the Centro del Buen Trato (Centre for Good Treatment), which is not an OPR itself, but is similar in terms of its operation (all these are communes where a lot of people from high strata lives). However, in Vitacura, one of the richest communes, not only in Santiago but in Chile, there is no agency acting in this role.

When compared to La Pintana, one of Santiago's poorest communes, Vitacura only has 9.08 legal cases of child protection and domestic violence for every 1,000 children against the 29.49 cases reported in La Pintana. However, when checking Child Custody and Visitation issues, Vitacura has 31.8 cases for every 1,000 children, while La Pintana only has 17.93. Most of the children rights violations in the higher class are found through these cases.

For Bessie Gálvez, La Reina’s OPR Coordinator, her greatest difficulty is the lack of local networks to refer children in case of violation. "We are forced to take the cases to court and through the court get access to these interventions.” The problem is that these programs are already full and children enter a waiting list. “Children can wait for around a year and in that time; a moderate intervention turns into a serious one.”

The Judiciary Power claims that the system has collapsed. Therefore, family judge Verónica Ortiz believes that cases like these should not be referred to state support networks. The problem is that there are very few specialized private institutions providing psychological repair and family therapies or parental skills workshops. “The logical thing would be to refer those families, who are able to pay, to these institutions, but they are counted on the fingers of the hands, five or six in Santiago and no single one in regions. We’ve hit a wall.”

The saturation of the system is also seen on another flank: guardians ad litem. There is more awareness of the importance of having a child's agent in these processes and, consequently, judges assign them more frequently. Unfortunately, the supply cannot meet the demand.

“In summer, for instance, when universities are closed, we have a high shortage of guardians, or guardians already allocated to other cases cannot attend hearings and we miss appointments,” says Ortiz. Others criticize that, whether due to negligence or lack of time, guardians barely talk to the children they represent.

According to the Children's Advocate, Patricia Muñoz, a “specialized legal representation to any event, where a lawyer works with a psychosocial pair, for all children and adolescents, should be the minimum standard.”

For Ester Valenzuela, this is a key matter: “There is more wisdom in childhood and adolescence than we believe. In all my years as a guardian, I have never had a case where the child’ own words had compromised or contradicted his or her best interests.” However, she adds, many times children's wishes are completely ignored by their parents or caregivers.

It never made sense to me that nobody did anything. I don't understand why they do it with people of low social stratum and not with people of high social stratum.”


When judges need to deliver a child’s custody to someone other than his or her parents, they also face difficulties. “In the lower strata, extended families often live together. You can take an abusive mother or uncle out of the house and leave child care to the grandmother, but in the higher strata, families are nuclear. Uncles and grandparents are rarely seen or live far away,” explains Judge Veronica Ortiz.

After surgery, a nine-year-old boy said that it was his nanny who accompanied him every night in the clinic, recalls a lawyer. “Indeed, there are cases where the significant adult, the attachment figure, is the house’s nanny,” says Ortiz, “but we cannot grant the child's personal care to her.”

“Does a child that is being a victim of a serious violation within a high-income family have the same chance of being taken out of this family environment immediately, as it occurs to a low-income child? The answer is no,” says Patricia Muñoz.

For the lawyer, this poses a major contradiction. “We cannot deny them the possibility of receiving proper care and protection just because they live in a much better environment than other children.”

The government acknowledges this reality. “When resources are scarce, you usually worry about those who have less but given that children are not only vulnerable for their income but just for being children, we are working on preventive policies for everybody,” says Childhood Under Secretary, Carol Bown. Consequently, she mentions the creation of a “Childhood Phone (and chat)” by 2020 and improvements in police protocols for receiving this kind of reports.

What changes does the system need to meet these challenges? Private support networks need to be improved, says attorney-at-law Francisco Estrada. And in that context, he adds, the ABC1 group can learn from Sename's professionals, “who have vast expertise and know how to spot and intervene.” It's not about expanding that system, he says, but learning from good practices and practicing them.

Gynecologist Andrea von Hoveling suggests imitating the "mistreatment committees" that exist in public hospitals, where professionals from different areas review cases and support each other.

Everything cannot rely on wills, on whether I call the school or contact the child's psychologist. If the network is institutionalized, one can work with more ease.

Andrea von Hoveling, gynecologist.

Pediatrician Fernando González states that the "early warning system" that is being proposed by the government, should consider a set of rules that enables health authorities to audit, penalize and intervene in different scenarios where the actions of private or public healthcare providers are not enough when investigating or reporting a children's rights violation. Something similar should happen at the educational level, apart from “training education professionals in these issues,” says Estrada.

Carol Bown notes that, when the State fails to get in time for several reasons, there is also a duty of the community. “We need to establish the idea that the protection of our children is everyone's job, not just an official’s job.”

But almost 30 years after Chile ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there is still no legal framework actually securing the protection of those rights. The Act on children's rights guarantees, which entered the Senate in 2015, is still in its second constitutional process.

I.M.'s case against his father was finally closed in early April. Monthly signature and a five-year restriction order for leaving the country was the sentence. “I steal a cashier and go to jail for five years, easily,” complains the boy, who feels that society as a whole abandoned him.

“Psychologists tell me that a person with my life experience would have committed suicide before entering adolescence. I've been to about eight therapies already, but they haven't been of much help. I guess you're always going to wait for your mom and dad to show up and say 'I'm sorry.’ All you want is for someone to give you a hug.”

Note: Some names and details of the people who offered their testimonies for this report were changed for their protection and, in particular, that of the minors involved.

Reports and help

Have you witnessed or suspected a violation of the rights of a child/adolescent?
You can report at the Office for the Protection of Rights (OPR) in your commune, police bodies (the Chilean military police force Carabineros and the civilian Investigations Police of Chile [PDI]) or directly to the public prosecutor's office or courts. You do not need to be directly related to the child, you just need to express your interest in protecting him or her. Reports cannot be anonymous.

Have you suffered or are you suffering a violation of your rights?
Don't hesitate to ask for help! Do you have a trusted adult to talk to?
It could be a family member, a teacher, a physician or other person who can listen to you and support you. If you do not have someone close to talk to, we recommend contacting one of the following organizations that specialize in different types of violations: Todo Mejora (bullying), Fundación para la Confianza (sexual abuse), Fundación José Ignacio (suicide). Obviously, you can also call Carabineros and the PDI.

Please refer to the Defensoría de la Niñez’s website for further information and recommendations.


Investigation and text: Tania Opazo.
Illustrations: Alfredo Cáceres.
Infographics: Hilda Oliva.
Animations: Giselle Riutort.
Design: Fabián Andrade.
Web development: Álex Acuña Viera.
English Translation: Pablo Siredey.