To Kill One’s Child: Every two days a child is killed in Mexico by a parent

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Mexico


Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 15/10/2019

Credit: Alejandra Crail

Project description:

#MatarAUnHijo (To Kill One’s Child) approaches the end point of the chain of victims of child abuse in Mexico: death.

The cases registered in this research found how the lack of interest in the three levels of government have had fatal repercussions on the minors’ lives. Between 2012 and 2017, almost 2,600 children under 15 were killed. The 42% of them by a family member, in their homes or as a result of child abuse.

EMEEQUIS developed a database of homicides and created a methodology which revealed that fathers, mothers and step fathers are the main aggressors.

Impact reached:

This is the first journalistic research that approaches an integral vision of the causes, ways and consequences of child abuse in Mexico. The three displayed cases answer the questions: who, how and why Mexican families kill.

The report was widely commented on radio stations, national television, and retaken on web portals reaching a wider audience. In addition, the methodology created was replicated in the state of Veracruz to discuss this problem at the local level.

This caused a first reaction from the government. The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, spoke about the feature in his matutine conference, promising to reinforce with greater budget the fight against child abuse.

One month after publication, the Senate approved the prohibition of corporal punishment as an educational method. Also, members of the Chamber of Deputies, began to discuss legislation to fight against child sexual abuse. Lorena Villavicencio, legislator, called on the Secretaries of Public Education, Health and Government to collaborate in the reduction and attention of cases of abused children.

The four texts that make up the research were consolidated as the most read of EMEEQUIS, with an average reading of almost six minutes per article, this is an indicator that one of the main objectives was met: to reach Mexican homes.

Nevertheless, the greatest achievement was to break the silence on a hidden and private topic, based on data and a completely new methodology. These entries are also a tool that calls society and governments to assume the commitment to protect children.

Techniques/technologies used:

An open database of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI, as in its acronym in Spanish) containing the total deaths registered annually in Mexico was used. This database feeds on the death certificates provided by the Civil Registry, the Forensic Medical Services and the statistical notebooks generated by the Agencies of the Public Ministry.

This data was eligible because it’s the only database that contains specific characteristics of the deaths recorded in Mexico, which allowed us to establish patterns of behavior around child abuse. We defined a five-year analysis period between 2012 and 2017 to portray patterns of violence committed against minors.

Prior to the data analysis, interviews were conducted with doctors, NGOs and specialists in child abuse topics, these interviews were the starting point for establishing the analysis methodology. “Most battered children are killed in their homes” said one of the specialists. As of that, we defined three analysis categories. First, the cases in which the aggressor was identified and it had some kinship with the victim.  Second, deaths that were recorded inside a house. Third, deceases in which death’ cause was directly mistreatment, neglect or abandonment.

In order to establish the study population, UNICEF’s definition of childhood were retaken, which considers that children under 15 are children.

Under these parameters five databases were downloaded with information on mortality, one for each year of study, in .csv format. Microsoft Excel was used for data processing. After making the corresponding filters, we used pivot tables to perform data crossings and thus detail the place of death, cause of death, victim’s gender, who the aggressors are and how they kill, as well as locate the hot spots in states and municipalities from Mexico.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Talking about child abuse in Mexico is not easy, because it’s a crime that occurs in private, by the people who are supposed to take care and protect the children. In addition, the disinterest of the authorities, have suppressed the opportunity to build official statistics on the subject, despite being considered by specialists as a “social disease“.

The lack of reliable statistics was the main obstacle, there are no data that allow to know the seriousness of the problem even on the end point of the chain of violence: death. The creation of a methodology that allows to establish the severity of a problem that costs lives was fundamental and required a lot of previous fieldwork to define the correct indicators.

However, the most difficult part was to get the voices that could show the human part of the data that we had already processed. This included the work to persuade the families of Diana Mia and Landon Yahir, as well Paloma, the woman who murdered her two daughters, to talk about their stories and let them realized the importance of telling their stories to raise awareness about the problem. This investigation wouldn’t have had the desired impact without those voices.

What can others learn from this project?

This in-depth report is a reminder that investigative journalism is about revealing something that has not been said, either because of an explicit interest in hiding it or, as in this case, because of a general lack of interest in addressing a problem that affects a certain sector of the population.

This project shows the importance of generating new research methodologies that allow us to reveal those realities that are not being talked about, so that they can be put on the public agenda and decision makers can attend to the people affected.

Another thing that can be learned from this project is that the absence of official data on a problem shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle: there will always be ways to narrate what happens, in this case with the use of open databases. Journalism is also about creating those new techniques that help highlight those situations that, as in the case of To Kill One’s Child, cost lives.

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