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Human Rights

Search for Missing Daughters in Mexico Drives Families into Ruin*

MEXICO CITY, Nov 19 2012 - The families of thousands of girls and women who have disappeared in Mexico are spending everything they have in the search for their daughters – and for justice.

The families, who are mostly poor, face not only the steep legal costs involved, but also the negligence of justice system officials in Mexico when it comes to solving disappearances and murders of women.

The costs include the fees of lawyers and outside experts, appeals procedures, and travel expenses involved in the search for their daughters and the numerous visits to courtrooms or prosecutors’ offices.

To cap it all, some victims’ mothers have to pay for the meals and cell-phone bills of the judicial agents assigned to their case.

The outlay adds up to an average of 23,000 dollars per family – although the total can be higher depending on the complexity of the case and the length of the investigation, human rights defenders say.

The monetary cost of justice for women victims of violence “is very high and is invisible,” said lawyer Irma Villanueva, coordinator of the legal department of the Centre for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM) in the northern state of Chihuahua.

“No one talks, either, about the loss of employment, the expenses of food and transport, the mothers’ lack of care for their other children and grandchildren, as well as their physical and emotional exhaustion. All this remains unacknowledged,” said Villanueva.

The panorama is repeated virtually all over the country, where the disappearance of women, femicides (gender-related murders) and impunity are routine.

The National Citizen Observatory on Femicides (OCNF) reported that from January 2010 to June 2011, 1,235 women were killed in Mexico for gender-related reasons.

Between 2005 and 2011, in the state of Mexico, adjacent to the capital city and notorious for violence against women, the OCNF recorded 922 victims of femicide.

In Chihuahua, in 2010 alone there were 600 cases of femicide, according to civil society organisations. The state is home to Ciudad Juárez, on the border with the United States, regarded as the global capital of murders of women.

Villanueva said that for 2007 and 2008, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes of Violence Against Women had 17,700 case files under investigation, of which only 531 were forwarded to a judge.

“Most women who are victims of violence have no idea how to present a complaint; very few case files make any progress if they don’t know about legal procedures or how to keep track of the work of the public prosecution service, so they need lawyers to support them,” she said.

Nor can the women afford to follow up the procedures, so their cases are just left “on ice,” she said.

A bottomless barrel

Villanueva said that hiring a lawyer to work on bringing a gender violence case to prosecution costs between 6,000 and 7,800 dollars.

Yuridia Rodríguez, an OCNF defence lawyer, said that in the case of Nadia Alejandra Muciño, a femicide victim in the state of Mexico in 2004, seven appeals were presented, each costing 540 dollars, for a total amount of 3,780 dollars.

Muciño’s mother, María Antonia Márquez, said that in eight and a half years of seeking justice she has spent close to 23,000 dollars. And since she reported her daughter’s murder, she has travelled three times a week to Cuautitlán, Toluca or Tlanepantla, spending over 15 dollars a day on fares and food.

Moreover she had to pay 410 dollars to make copies of her daughter’s 3,600-page case file. “At first I hired two lawyers; I gave the first one an advance of 15,000 pesos (1,150 dollars) and the second 8,000 pesos (610 dollars). They both abandoned the case,” she said.

In another example, the mother of a 21-year-old young woman who disappeared in 2011 in another municipality of the state, who requested anonymity, said she has spent over 15,300 dollars in the past year and a half.

In addition to the costs of travelling to the Crime Victims Attention Units, to the interior of the country and even abroad to find her daughter, and the payments to an independent expert, the mother also had to pay 80 dollars a day for the food, gasoline and cell-phone bills of prosecution agents.

“When I saw no results, I hired a private detective who worked for two months, and I was paying him 1,000 pesos (80 dollars) a day, as well,” she complained.

Given the inaction by the authorities over the disappearance of Esmeralda Castillo Rincón on May 19, 2009 in Ciudad Juárez, her parents had to travel last March to the Federal District of the capital city, to look for their teenaged daughter.

The family sold hamburgers on the street to pay for the trip, as Castillo’s father, a cancer patient, lost his job because of the time he spent searching for his daughter, and the girl’s mother has been unable to find a job because of her age.

* This article was originally published by the Mexican news agency Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC (CIMAC).

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