2011-07-02 Cables reveal the logic of Nicaragua’s social welfare programs for street children: ‘Cut the budget and hide it in secrecy’

Along with insight on Hambre Cero ('Zero Hunger'), cables released by WikiLeaks provide previously unreported dark sides in inner management of social welfare programs launched by the Ortega government. This article reports the way social welfare programs are dealt with in the midst of budget deficits based on the cables, mainly focusing on one of the major social welfare projects of Ortega government, Programa Amor ('Program of Love') and other social welfare programs for street children in 2007-2010.


What is Programa Amor?

Programa Amor is one of many social welfare programs that President Ortega and his FSLN party presented to the public in 2007. The stated goal of the program was to provide education and other opportunities to 25,000 street children to break away from some of the worst forms of child labor. Programa Amor has been headed by the First Lady Rosiario Murillo and Ministries of Family, Health, Education, and the government.

Cable: Concerns of Ministry of Family insiders on Programa Amor; It forces children to their home which drive them back to the street

09MANAGUA1318 reveals that people inside the Ministry of Family (MiFamilia), which is a focal point of implementation of Programa Amor, confessed their concerns on the program’s general operating style. The program sends children back to their home in the evening after daytime education courses of the shelters, and this poses a serious threat to the children, since most of them are forced to find places at night other than their homes, which they originally ran away from.

This poses a serious threat especially to most of street girls. One of the main reasons that many girls who ran out of their home due to domestic and gender-based violence cannot return to their home is because of the lack of any effective helping hand available to them. About 46% of all female population in Nicaragua is under age 18, and rape and sexual abuse against girls by their family members is often silenced and under reported; mostly, it is the victims who suffer from guilt and shame, and they are often reluctant to prosecute the case out of fear. This also is the 'major obstacle' to the permanent reintegration of young female victims of human trafficking, according to 08MANAGUA1057, demonstrating why failure to provide safe shelters and forcing the children to their problematic homes can never be a solution of any effectiveness. Programa Amor’s plan of sending the children back to their homes for 'the right of a child to grow up in the family'(09MANAGUA1318) displays the government’s misunderstanding of the chief cause that generates street children.

Countries throughout the region face similar obstacles in providing victims' assistance, including the lack of qualified personnel to work with TIP survivors during the process of identification and reinsertion; the lack of shelters equipped to handle the specific needs of TIP victims; and problematic family circumstances, especially intrafamily violence-- a main obstacle to successful reintegration and long-term recovery.

The way the Ortega government deals with budget deficits: Cut the budget support for Programa Amor and other social welfare programs, and hide it in secrecy

In addition to this, budget supply to the program has been cut severely, after international budget supports - mainly from EU - to Nicaragua had been suspended after the controversial 2008 municipal elections. Cables demonstrate that despite the financial problems and withdrawal of overall resources, the Ortega government had kept informing the public that the government is exercising effort on social welfare programs;

According to the GON's own figures, the percentage of the MiFamilia budget destined for assistance services and social protection was 15% in 2009 compared to 44.3% in 2005, during the previous administration.… Critics point out that the interagency coordination required for such an effort does not exist and resources are not allocated despite the GON rhetoric to the contrary. (09MANAGUA1318)

This cover-up was possible because the government locked most of the official information regarding the programs secret. Programa Amor was not free from this and also suffered from the lack of transparency; 10MANAGUA202 reports that checking the effectiveness of the program was impossible due to ‘lack of accessibility to the information’.

While there is some evidence that the program was operative in early 2009, quantitative information regarding its effectiveness has been largely absent due to lack of accessibility.

And 10MANAGUA93 shows that the amount of genuine effort devoted to social welfare programs can only be guessed even after 3 years had passed since the launching of Programa Amor, Hambre Cero (Zero Hunger) and other major social welfare programs;

Ortega has used ALBA funds to implement his vision of a mixed economy by investing in electricity generation, a hotel, cattle ranch, and television station; some financing is provided only to businesses that agree to export to Venezuela. Although accounting lacks transparency, the government claims funds were also used for social programs to build housing and roads, reduce hunger, and improve access to credit. FSLN-dominated CPCs are tasked with identifying participants in these programs.

Government's efforts in helping street children other than Programa Amor evaluated in cables: Largely ineffective, exacerbating Nicaragua’s already serious human trafficking problems

09STATE60629, a guide to the 2009 TIP(Trafficking in Persons) Report, discusses the state of the government efforts. The cable suggests that despite the high seriousness of both national and international human trafficking in Nicaragua, the government is largely indifferent toward the problem. This includes its scant will to prosecute high ranking government officials who are allegedly complicit with and profiting through human trafficking, mostly sexual exploitation of young female minors:

The government opened no investigations of suspected official complicity with human trafficking, despite credible reports of trafficking-related corruption in the judiciary, in addition to police and immigration officials accepting bribes, sexually exploiting victims, or turning a blind eye to such activity, particularly at the nation's borders.

10MANAGUA228, which is a 2010 TIP report for Nicaragua, confirms that the necessity of government-run shelters for street children and trafficking victims are largely absent still in 2010:

The Ministry of the Family is responsible for providing victim care facilities to children (people 17 years old and younger). In practice, the departments most affected by trafficking did not have adequate care facilities. There were no shelters in Chinandega. Rio San Juan, Esteli, and Rivas each had one shelter funded and operated by an NGO. Rivas also had one government-run care facility that took in all people in need of temporary shelter, not just trafficking victims. There were no government-run shelters available for women or men, nor were there any government-run shelters specifically for trafficking victims regardless of age or gender. As noted in the interim TIP assessment, media reported that the government underfunded the children's public shelters.

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