In several states of Mexico, the systems for the Integral Development of the Family (DIF) have locked up hundreds of children, teenagers and elderly in rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and alcoholics, even when they do not have addiction problems, according to a journalistic investigation of the Quinto Elemento Lab.
According to the story, in many of these inexpensive rehabilitation centers (known in Mexico as “anexos”), cases of exploitation, mistreatment, and even torture are well documented.
In Mexico, the DIF systems are government institutions in charge of social assistance, especially for children and adults without families or who suffer from a disability.
One of these cases is that of Chuy, a deaf-mute man between 30 and 35 years old, who lives in an “anexo” of the State of Mexico without being addicted or alcoholic. Along with 35 men who do have substance abuse problems, Chuy has been at that site for four years, after government officials took him there after police officers found him wandering around, barefoot and dirty. Even though a bulletin was published with his photo, no one has gone looking for him.
Another case is that of Beto, who in 2021 when he was 13 years old, was taken to an “anexo” after his grandparents died and he was sleeping in a market. According to Quinto Elemento’s research, at least nine Mexican states take children, the elderly, and the disabled to inexpensive rehabilitation centers, instead of integrating them into a community where they can be safe.
"El policía me dijo que me iba a refundir el tiempo que él quisiera". Con sólo 11 años, Juan fue uno de los #anexados por el DIF sin tener problemas de adicciones, sino de conducta. Conoce su historia en esta investigación de Elva Mendoza [@elvamza].— Quinto Elemento Lab (@quintoelab) August 9, 2023
In many of the “anexos” the inmates live locked up and they cannot go out. Such is the case of Janeth, who was in a rehabilitation center from 12 to 17 years old without being an addict. Another case is that of Anselmo, an 84-year-old man who in 2018 was taken to the same place where Chuy lives. He died with a paralyzed body in 2022, alone and without family.
The DIF systems pay rehabilitation centers from 1,900 to 15,000 pesos per month per person housed, according to the review of hundreds of agreements of that institution with various annexes. These documents, technically called Coordination or Coordination Agreements, are the way to formalize the sending of the population to these places.
From 2015 to 2022, the DIFs of nine states signed agreements for just over 31.6 million pesos with centers for the treatment of addictions, Quinto Elemento Lab found.
The DIF are the government agencies in charge of protecting minors and those in a vulnerable condition, victims of violence, abuse, orphanhood or abandonment come into their hands. After almost 40 interviews, visits to centers for people with addictions in four states, and review of files, this investigation documented that the DIF often exposes all these people to greater risks, instead of keeping them safe,
“Why do they take them to annexes if there are homes? I have never understood,” said Janeth, who spent five years in “anexos” in Michoacán. “Many people come to the anexo very badly and those who are from DIF have to see that”.
Often these rehab centers are seen as just another social assistance center, but “anexos” have different dynamics from those of a group home, a shelter, an asylum or an orphanage.
Alejandro had not used drugs or alcohol but the DIF Mexico City left him in the Fundación Jóvenes Tlatilco rehabilitation center in 2022, when he was 17 years old. He believes it was a punishment for having defended other children from mistreatment in the group home where he lived with his eight-year-old brother.
Alejandro says that in Jóvenes Tlatilco, he and other children and adolescents taken by the DIF lived 24 hours a day with recovering adults and were forced to attend up to 12 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a day. “A child of eight or twelve years is not to listen to those things,” he said. “It was quite difficult, really, to tolerate everything, quite difficult to be there.”
Alejandro failed in his first attempt to escape from the annex, fifteen days after arriving. The managers beat him, covered him up and tied his hands and feet as an example, he narrated one afternoon, on a central street in the capital. In a second attempt, two months after his admission, he managed to escape.
“Government agencies send people wherever there is room,” explained Lisbet Brizuela, Mexico director of Disability Rights International (DRI), an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities. There is no parameter for the DIF to decide where to take people, which allows arbitrary acts. “The system is a big black hole,” he added.