Kids, (legal) drugs, violence, predators

Everyone seems to agree that in Nicaragua kids have poor access to health care, good schools and, well, just about everything else. But, is Nicaragua a bad place to bring up a kid?

I was discussing the mounting evidence that the legal drugs used in the US to fix what are perceived as psychological and behavorial issues have serious site effects -- one of them being violence -- with an NL member. The response I got surprised me. I don't want to out the person who wrote it but I think it is a very interesting point. The message was

I have been concerned about pumping kids full of drugs.... they need lots of play outside, but no one wants to leave their kids alone..... for fear of predators

When I moved to Nicaragua nine years ago I was innundated with neighborhood kids who wanted to meet my dog. I then set up a computer for guests which became a second kid attraction. Eventually I started meeting some of the parents but, initially, my house was regularly filled with kids from 0 to 12 years of age. My first thought was that their parents were being irresponsible but I quickly realized that unlike the places where I lived in the US, neighbors talked to each other. Clearly everyone knew the kids were safe.

In my years in Estelí I saw kids walking alone after dark in the streets. Sometimes it was a five year old being responsible for her three year old brother. Leaving a 10 year old at home to manage his/her younger siblings was not uncommon. While I am sure child molestation happens in Nicaragua (and expect that, like in the US, it tends to be an uncle or some such) I doubt it is any more common than in the US where the nanny state is protecting you and where, apparently, you are afraid to leave your kids alone.

Let me add one more data point. I took this photo in Panajachel Guatemala when I was there. Their mother sells mostly articles of clothing near the lake. When I took this picture the kids were a few blocks away from where their mother usually sells things. They had a basket of small craft items they were selling on the street. I was sitting talking to a friend. They saw me, ran over and joined us.

I was talking to a friend about the attitudes in the Lake Atitlan area. (He was there almost 40 years ago but currently lives in Panama.) He had two comments about the photo:

  1. By California standards you are clearly molesting those kids.
  2. I don't see any smiling Indians where I live.

I have not been in the US in 11 years so I defer the US side of the comparison to those who have but the feeling I get is that the use of professionals and drugs to address behavorial problems and expecting the government to protect our kids from, well, everything is depersonalizing the relationship between parents and children which, in itself, is creating a bigger problem.

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Lord of the Flies

I know of a 3 year old who was recently caught sexually molesting another 3 year old. The victim `s mother broke them up and took the kid to his grandmother. After expressing surprise and pena for the indecent, the grandmother went on to relate that the 3 year old had been molested by ``a group`` or 10-11 year olds. She had gone to the 10-11 year old`s family and they were beaten for what they had done. Probably good she followed up on it, but I doubt a beating will help sexual predators. The 3 year old was recently seen on a public street sexually exposing himself again. I suppose a trip to the free shrink at the public hospital is probably in order, but I don`t know if it would really do any good.

I know of a young family who paid ``a muchacha`` to care for their baby while they worked. Over a period of about a year they noticed the baby was not developing right and was constantly sick. Eventually they found out the woman was beating and abusing the baby and threatening the older child with the same if he said anything. They fired her and went to the police, who investigated and reported back they could not find the woman and her relatives said she had gone to CR.

If you want to raise your kids Hillary style and let them run the streets, go for it. Most educated middle class people I know have few kids and watch them closely. They play with select friends and relatives. IF you lived in a very small community and knew everyone and all of their relatives, you would have a little slack, but in the sprawling slum communities the streets have their own rules.

"Anything that is complex is not useful and anything that is useful is simple. This has been my whole life's motto."

Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian inventor


and you never know who is on the streets.

But this sort of stuff was happening... a nice South Carolina college town when I was growing up. As I said, the kids knew who the bad kid was -- and he knew to go after kids whose families weren't connected with the local college. Same for the teacher who played the corporal punishment games until one kid went completely nuts and burned down the school and a couple of other things associated with the woman (I was one of her targets, but not one of the ones who got the worst of it). My younger sister who he was and he was never prosecuted since I think everyone realized the teacher should have been fired years earlier.

The situation in NYC and Philly was that when the kids played on the street, adults were watching and most of those communities were fairly tight. The Italian neighborhood a couple of blocks south was even more tight and the rules were enforced by guys with baseball bats. Most problematic were the hippie areas.

The young girl next door is 2 and has play dates. I suspect her parents are interested in continuing the family's upward mobility and she doesn't have any siblings yet (and perhaps won't have).

I knew a woman on welfare who lived in an apartment building next door to mine. She had two very beautiful daughters and worked off the books to send them to the local parochial school. They all lived in an apartment the size of mine, a foyer that most of us used as an eating area, walk through kitchenette in the hall to the bathroom, and a main room that was around 12 ft by 10 ft. And the mom often had a boyfriend living there, too. She was trying to keep the girls safer than she'd been, I suppose.

I wouldn't insult any of the people I knew who were genuinely in desperate economic straits by pretending I've been truly poor, though I know people in the arts who do make that pretense, even social programs that give them jobs for being artists. Don't know if I could get a decent job now, but up to my late 50s, I was always able to walk away from whatever I was or wasn't making in the arts or in academia and get a job that paid better. I know people who couldn't do that for all sorts of reasons, some under their control, some due to foolish choices when they were younger, and some for reasons they didn't have much control over.

Many middle class people don't see the lives of the really poor as quite real (seeing them as more real than our lives is even more insulting). I don't remotely imagine I have an easy solution for their problems that they could apply if only they listened to me and changed all their attitudes. I don't even know if I could legitimately recommend a hard solution that might work. Real solutions depend on a lot of variables, including personality and intelligence, and sometimes, whether the person has access to a good library or an internet connection. And there are kids in the US who don't have those, though more here, obviously.

Most people want to believe the way things are makes sense and is fundamentally benevolent, that our bosses and leaders are "men of good will," as my father used to say, and are looking out for us. Just another attempt to simplify life and keep up one's spirits -- just different in mood from other conspiracy theories.

Rebecca Brown

Parts of American culture

Parts of American culture seem rather obsessed with sexual violence and sexual dysfunction. My whole life, I've heard people regularly making jokes about things like:

  • Horrible jokes about women of one ethnicity "just begging for it" from men of another
  • PE teachers getting off on girls in their gym kits or boys jumping for towels in the locker room
  • Priests and altar boys
  • Prison rape
  • Drunk/high/whatever college co-eds getting f*ed out of their minds
  • etc., etc.

It's absurd that so many people joke and laugh about these things, but there you have it.

Also, homophobia seems to run rampant in the US -- or at least many parts of it. Any guy unattached to a pretty woman could be gay, and anyone gay could be a pedophile. (This, of course, ignores all the married men, "uncles" as FYL said, etc. who've done horrible things to people of all ages.) Large swathes of America have a serious problem with sex, on all kinds of levels, but Nicaragua seems to have been thankfully spared from that.

Here in Esteli kids come across as feeling safe, at least within their neighborhoods or other familiar areas, and don't require the constant attention of adults. The only concerns I've seen anyone express about predators are young women alone or with just a friend who are out late at night far away from home. And then, the concern is only that they should get a taxi instead of walking home. In Managua, though, things were definitely different. There was an awareness of sex tourism, and that seemed like the biggest concern... but then, I was on the hospitality scene, so that'd be obvious. But also, there was a sense that you shouldn't go outside your immediate neighborhood alone at night. People thought I was absolutely idiotic for walking alone up and down Carretera de Masaya alone at night.

Actually, I probably was. I found out a couple weeks later that a gringo was kidnapped during the day and seriously mugged on the same stretch of road. Of course, he pulled a knife on the people mugging him, so I'm sure that didn't help. He was also followed from wherever he had been coming from, got off alone at a bus stop, and had a huge pack of stuff on his back. And he was bilingual and the people mugging him thought he was a Salvadoran at first... so maybe that was a special circumstance. I dunno.

In any case, regarding raising kids generally, I wouldn't want to raise a kid here unless I made good money. Life is not especially kind or easy to the majority of Nica families who are scraping by. Also, just because kids here are independent doesn't make this some sort of wonderland. I've met some really nice kids, like the electrician's boy who snuck up behind me while I was on a business call and sat there listening for I don't know how long. I almost flipped out when I realized someone was literally breathing right next to my ear. He laughed and was very funny and nice... still not sure who thought it was a good idea to let a kid wander into a stranger's bedroom, though.

On the other hand, some of the independence thing isn't all fun and games. I've seen roving bands of boys going from ceramic tile to ceramic tile on the sidewalk stomping on them with rebar. I've seen kids shooting serious fireworks at dogs. I saw a 10-year-old boy run into someone purposely with his bike and then flip the person off and laugh. Lots of not especially pro-social or empathetic behavior.

Also, for a while, a cadre of 16-18-year-olds were stopping by my house to watch videos on my spare computer (though I cut that off after a while because they'd stay all friggin' night). They were always polite and friendly to me, but they were not satisfied with their lives. They drank a lot. One was sleeping with a married pregnant woman. Another got in a serious car crash with his minor brother who was driving drunk. Many of them had parents who had never been married and hadn't lived together.

I'm not saying these sorts of stories are more common than happy ones. I also know a pharmacy technician's daughter who is totally amazing and creative and happy and a lawyer's son who's ridiculously polite and sweet and witty. I'm just saying that Nicaraguan families and kids have plenty of problems of their own.

Though, on average, I will say the education system here really does strike me as rather abysmal. I'm sure some of the private/catholic/subsidized schools do all right, but the public ones don't seem too hot. I'm really interested in education, so I try to find out as much about it as possible. From the kids and college students I've talked to, I haven't been at all impressed. I don't know if the unambitious curriculum, the lack of learning time, etc. are a result of limited resources or some other combination of factors, but they're definitely a reality.

Predators and legal drugs (the other side)

I am unsure the commonness of children being out and about day and night is really an indication of safety, perceived or otherwise. I don't know the exact basis for the claim (might be several different reports), but Amnesty International as well as Nicaraguan-based groups have often stated that Nicaragua has the highest rate of attacks against women and girls in Central America. Of course, since this is presumably a per-capita measure of reported assaults by victim or parent, if two countries have similar dangers but one has more forthcoming reporting, that country looks worse – though in reality isn't. Sexual abuse has been listed as "rampant" or as an "epidemic" in Nicaragua, by an array of people and organizations over the last 10 years or so. The Legal-Medical Institute (not sure the official Nica name) claims 5500 (est.?) cases are reported annually, and since most cases are not reported they, too, consider it an epidemic. As does the Women's Autonomous Movement (not sure of that offficial name either). At least one of the fairly recent reports is "Listen to their voices and act: Stop the rape and sexual abuse of girls in Nicaragua". Some materials I have seen and/or heard of in Honduras and Nicaragua are listed as a "Demand Dignity" project; at least some of they do is targeting how witnesses, reporting and especially sentencing is handled. As for legal drugs, while there use in schools is likely small in C.A., this is the only treatment most abused victims will ever get. In many cases this is used instead of police reporting (free, but basically useless) or therapy (not free, and depending on who does it still might be near useless). If you know a pharmacist well enough that he/she trusts you enough to tell the truth, ask how much diazapan and all the like they sell. The amount might surprise you. Most is not used to calm bored or stressed middle class spouses. In many cases when the pharmacist sees the desperate mother (with or without the child, usually a daughter), they "know" what the tablets are for.

I still suspect that most of the abuse isn't by strangers

Honduras has, from what I've read, murders of women which are not acted upon by the police.

Some things are so common that nobody reports them. This was true of street mugging in NYC in the 1970s. I didn't know anyone who called the cops and I knew a number of people who had been held up in the street. So NYC had a lower reported crime rate than some other places that had less crime. In both SF and Philly, while I also knew people who were robbed in the street, I knew fewer of them, and I lived in Philly for 12 years and Manhattan for seven, SF for less than one year. All of the victims outside NYC called the police, and the police made some effort to find the muggers.

Jinotega has anti-domestic violence marches, and currently, there's an anti-sexual abuse poster on the doors to the carport at my house. This is ahead the US of my younger days when of "boys will be boys" and "no priest would ever do anything like that." A woman teacher couldn't possibly be abusive even when the teacher in question had a female student lift her dress so the teacher could paddle her on her panties in front of the class. More reported now or actually higher?

A writer I know slightly did a informal survey of women living on the street in Seattle and found that almost all the women she talked to were getting raped frequently. What amount of that gets reported anywhere?

One of the studies I read earlier said that Leon and Russia have equivalent domestic violence rates but nobody in Russia is trying to stop it, but in Leon, people are trying to do something.

A net friend who is an American Indian said that a very high percentage of sexual abuse of Native women is not by Native men, that in some areas, Native women are considered fair game and those rapes don't get any police attention. White on black rapes were under policed in the South (even black on black rapes), but a black man who raped a white woman, though, was in deepest deep shit).

Many US feminists talk about rape culture there. I have some sense that the same thing is talked about here, but my Spanish isn't good enough for those dialogues at this point. Sometimes this comes across like White Men protecting Brown Women from Brown Men. Boys also get sexually molested -- I know personal details of three male on male rapes in the US, none of which were reported, all of them damaging to the boys who were raped.

I also wonder about the spread of the curve -- are we talking significant differences, a two fold difference between how girls are treated here and how they're treated somewhere else, or a five percent difference, or something that could be just noise if some NGOs didn't need to raise money?

Rebecca Brown


“…a very high percentage of sexual abuse of Native women is not by Native men, that in some areas, Native women are considered fair game and those rapes don't get any police attention…”

While the police attention part is likely correct (though it might have changed recently, historically a Tribal Court cannot prosecute a non-Indian; Republicans blocked attempts to expand this power). The rape of a black woman is 350% more likely to result in an arrest and prosecution than one of a Native American woman - but the reason for this is not that the attackers are outside the ethnic group (many Indian Health Service Hospitals do not even keep statistics, let alone properly gather and preserve evidence), rather the opposite. It is highly unlikely that sexual abuse claim above is true or that there is any real basis for it. Rape has been common in U.S. Native American communities for many generations and it is true East, West, the Plains, and especially in Alaska. You can learn a lot from Offender Status by region. A simple comparison, remembering how few Native American rape crimes and criminals go through the process: as of a year or two ago Minneapolis with 388,000 people has 101 Class 3 Sex Offenders, but not so far away SD's Rosebud Sioux Reservation, with only 26,000 people, has 99.

I think the Tribal Court having no jurisdiction was critical

The person who posted the link said her mother or grandmother was very concerned about her marrying a Swedish guy, concerned that he wouldn't treat her right.

A lot of the conquest, here and in NA, involved sexual use of the women and enslaving the men and sending them to the West Indies (in South Carolina) or to Peru's silver mines (here).

One of the problems with poor communities is they don't just have their own problems, which are considerable enough. They often get middle class and upper middle class problems spun off as remittance people into their communities. Living here made me want to go back in time and shake Jack Kerouac really hard. One of my friends in Philadelphia worked as a hotel maid at one point and finds Hunter Thompson's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS so very annoying that she couldn't finish it.

When I worked for Women Against Abuse, our director was concerned that the agency was helping put black men in jail. The counselors who worked directly with the women didn't have a problem with that. We had no white counselors -- and only three white employees at the shelter. The counselors said that the environment was far too rough for white social workers. Women Against Abuse had hired them, but they did't stay. It was intense. I didn't stay either.

Minneapolis has neighborhoods that a friend who lived in one described as black and Indian. She didn't see the police as serving that community unless like her, a person was white. i suspect that some people caught in the cities end up back on the rez. Be curious to see where they were living when they were arrested.

Rebecca Brown

Someone always has jurisdiction

That Tribal Courts cannot prosecute non-Indians should not be taken to mean that such people operate with impunity on Reservations (a common myth or urban legend). They surely don’t. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office staff these territories, too. The U.S. Government cannot prosecute all Reservation based crimes (they are restricted from doing so by laws granting Reservation autonomy), but can and do prosecute inter-defined major crimes, including murder, kidnapping, arson, rape, sexual abuse, and felony assault, etc. - usually aggressively so, if there is evidence and witness. This is true for crimes committed by Native Americans against non-Native Americans, crimes by and against Native Americans, and crimes against Native Americans committed by non-Native Americans. While state Courts are limited to handling non-Native American crime on itself, Federal Courts are specifically assigned duties and, in general, are much more vigilant and punitive than Tribal Courts (especially per domestic violence). The “lawlessness” that exists on so many reservations cannot be explained by lack of Court of Recourse, and a statically small portion of the crimes are committed by outsiders. The Reservations, however, do have a legitimate complaint that their territory receives a tiny portion of the safety funding as do non-Reservation territories, which means less training, less police, less facilities, less evidence gathering, etc..

My impression is that at least some people don't like the FBI

And, yeah, I do know about exaggerations and all that.

The Cherokee are a particularly interesting case because before removal, they were assimilating and extending white culture and technology quite rapidly and were becoming an economic force in Georgia and had supporters in both Tennessee (Davey Crockett), New England, and in the Supreme Court (John Marshall). What was left in NC were the more conservative Cherokee and once the reservation was founded, their children were removed to Federal schools and forced to learn English.

I wonder if one part of the minority crime problem is a belief that it's better not to have one of ours in Federal hands (the FBI under Hoover was quite anti-black; things have improved since). Black hostility to white cops often based on something real if not always the case. One white Midwestern serial killer talked the white cops into handing him one of his victims despite the concerns of black women who'd tried to save the kid, a Vietnamese boy. Nothing happened to the cops. Sixth precinct cops in NY were notoriously corrupt (one of my students was a black retired homicide cop who was not at all surprised with my experiences with those cops). Best street policing in my neighborhood was after a cop was shot -- and some of us rather bitterly joked that it could be far nicer on the streets if someone shot a cop a month. Most people's way of handling a burglary was to beat the crap out of the guy who did it if they knew who it was.

Multi-factoral. Belt's book on Nicaragua said that from what he could see, intact indigenous villages had fewer problems than mestizo villages. I wonder what the real crime rates were in the Inca Empire when that was intact (I don't have a problem with the Aztecs going away particularly and apparently many other indigenous groups would have been quite happy if that had been all the Spanish did).

Some issues I figure it would be more project that I could take on now to really do justice to. Some of my neighbors on Mott Street told me they hated white liberal sentimentality about black criminals quite passionately.

Rebecca Brown

School drugs over used -- absolutely

This is another possible factor: -- lead poisoning. I'm wondering now if Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama require unleaded gas and what's the situation in the countries north of Nicaragua that have high crime rates, though this is just one factor.

As for child molestation, I doubt seriously that most of the average molestation is by strangers. And a fair chunk of unreported cases are teenager on barely pubescent or almost pubescent younger children. My guess is that's far more common than anything else, and that other eras that were less sentimental about children did more to prevent it (I saw an 18th century farm house that had been built with two staircases to two separate bedrooms, one for the boys and one for the girls -- a lot more realistic than most 20th century people about that issue, the adolescents in the house wouldn't necessarily be kin).

When I lived in cities, if kids weren't out playing during the hours when kids were home during the day, I left that street as quickly as I could. Poor mothers aren't stupid about the safety of their children, but the threats were more likely to be theft than sexual predators (though some white men say nasty things to young black girls, according to one of my young friends on Mott Street).

As a former teacher, I'm a bit more cynical about the efficacy of parents than you might be. Basically, most parenting is finished by age five or so and the community takes over after that. Many cultures turn the kids over to older kids to raise, especially agricultural societies. Destroying communities is a bigger problem -- urban renewal, the mass suburbanization of the US after WWII. Stable neighborhoods tend to be safer (there are some old mixed race communities that are also low crime in Charlotte, generally working class). One of the problems with modern life in the US is the frequent moving, which means that people don't know their neighbors, that there's no core of people who can integrate new neighbors. The kids in my neighborhood in Clemson knew who the kid predator was -- the adults were oblivious.

Rebecca Browm