Last Tuesday, January 23rd, Marco Antonio Sánchez a 17-year-old high School student and his friend got off a Metrobus in Mexico City. The local police accosted Marco and carted him away. Marco had no criminal history and was not doing anything wrong. That kicked off a frantic five-day search for Marco by his parents, friends and even the renowned UNAM University in Mexico City (Marco´s high school was part of the UNAM preparatory system). He was not at the prosecutor’s office centralized jail for juveniles. He was not at the juvenile detention center. He could not be located at any hospital or police station. Pressure built up as UNAM students and local human rights organizations mobilized a march.
Finally, Sunday night at 8:45 PM the Secretary of Public Security for Mexico City (the equivalent of the Police Commissioner) announced that Marco had been located and released. It wasn’t until 9:30 PM that his parents found him in neighboring Mexico State, 50 miles away from where he was last seen. Marco had his head shaved, was beaten and bruised, limping and without shoes. He could not remember his name.
For any parent or loved one of a teenager, Marco’s story is a terrifying tale of government abuse, corruption and incompetence. If not for all the social pressure, Marco’s story could have ended much worse that it did. Children are often victims of police. In the Metro and public spaces in Mexico City it is common to see Missing Children signs posted. How many of those children are missing because of the local police.
The fear that Marco’s parents felt is multiplied many times a day all over Mexico when children are arrested. If they are located, there is relief. But if they are in the juvenile detention center, their ordeal may just be starting. Beatings, poor conditions, abuse from other teens, inedible food and drawn out legal proceedings await them. Or worse. In some cases, the police return to the juvenile detention center, pick up a boy or girl, drive them away to be tortured for information.
That is what happened to Julio, a boy who was wrongly accused and eventually acquitted but not before being removed from the detention center and tortured.
Marco, Julio and thousands of boys and girls like them all over Mexico are why Juvenile Justice Advocates International exists.