A bill that proposes protection and reparation measures for the children victims of femicide was presented by Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP, in Spanish) Rep. Denis Márquez on September 29. The government falls short of providing specific attention to children orphaned by femicides.
The bill proposes a special fund for scholarships to elementary and secondary school children whose mothers were killed in domestic violence circumstances. The children could receive up to $2000 a year for school expenses. The new bill would also amend the Compensations and Services for Domestic Violence Victims and Witnesses Law, to assign a monthly allowance of up to $500 monthly to minors until they reach adulthood. The Secretary of the Department of the Family will select, among those who qualify, the number of students that the annual budget allows.
The special fund will be financed through donations or allocations from individuals, private or federal, local, or municipal government entities, and allocations made by the Legislative Assembly. The bill allocates $50,000 from available funds in the General Budget for the first fiscal year.
“In subsequent fiscal years, the necessary funds will be allocated in the General Budget according to the expenses of the Department of the Family, considering the experience and results of the previous year,” the bill states.
The bill acknowledges the lack of reliable official statistics in Puerto Rico on the murders of women and the impact that these crimes have on surviving family members. For this reason, it also orders the Department of the Family to create an official registry of the children of the victims of femicide.
“Many of these surviving minors remain in the custody of a family member, in most cases their grandparents, who face the challenge of raising children at old age, dealing with their grandchildren’s trauma, in addition to their own loss, with very little support from the government,” the legislative bill further states.
The proposed legislation quotes the findings of the series “The Children Whose Mothers Were Taken Away by Machismo” published by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) and the feminist journalism outlet Todas, about the 71 women victims of intimate femicides registered in Puerto Rico since Hurricane María, on 2017, through November 2021. The series was based on data from studies by non-governmental organizations Kilómetro 0, Proyecto Matria, and the Observatorio de Equidad de Género.
Experts interviewed for the stories confirmed that ignoring the indirect or secondary victims of femicides contributes to ongoing intergenerational cycles of violence. When the trauma generated by the violent experience is not addressed in time, children and teens can engage in problematic and harmful behaviors, such as dropping out of school, substance abuse, or repeating the same violence they experienced.
Of these 71 women, at least 49 had children, and no less than 101 persons lost their mother during that period, the investigation by the CPI and Todas found. The data come from police reports, press releases, and information gathered by the organizations. It was estimated that 55 of those orphans were minors, children, and teens who have also survived long periods of instability due to socio-natural disasters. Besides Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico has been through a prolonged economic crisis since 2016, school closures due to austerity measures imposed by the government, earthquakes in 2020, government instability in 2019, and more than a year of pandemic restrictions.
Although the Puerto Rico Department of the Family assured in an interview that it coordinates therapeutic resources for some children survivors of femicides, these children are not distinguished from the rest of the population of minors to whom it offers services, nor do they offer follow-up on all of them. The Department has no idea of how many children have lost their mothers to domestic violence.
Governments in other parts of the world, such as Argentina, Chile, and some states in México, have established laws similar to those proposed by lawmaker Márquez. In Ecuador, a bill with the same mission statement is under consideration by its National Assembly.
House Bill 1877 was referred on October 3 to the House of Representatives’ Legal Commission chaired by House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez.