Bolivia’s missing children

One office stands out from all the others at the bus and train terminal in Santa Cruz. It’s the only one that doesn’t employ a person shouting the names of cities to which there are still available seats on the next bus: “Sucre, Sucre, Sucre!” “Beni, Beni, Beni!” “Quijarro, Quijarro, Quijarro!”

Even without screaming girls, the office of the Bolivian Transit Police attracts my attention. Its windows are plastered with WANTED-posters, or so I believe at first. “Let’s see what the typical crimes here are,” I think, approaching with curiosity. This might be a more interesting way to spend the time I have to wait for the Orient Express than having another portion of chicken and rice.


The first poster reads DESAPARECIDO. Missing. Well, that can happen. The next poster: DESAPARECIDO. The one next to that: DESAPARECIDO. And so on. Of the 60 posters only one calls for help with identifying a car thief. The other 59 concern missing persons.


I understand that in a large country like Bolivia, you can easily get lost and die in the desert or get eaten by a jaguar in the rainforest. But so many people? No, this is more than the normal rate of atrophy.

Even more shocking is the composition of victims. These are less the demented doters that abscond elsewhere from time to time, but mainly children and teenagers. I pencil some of the names and ages in my notebook: Yandira, 18. Estefany, 14. José Luis, 6. Milan Jailany, 2. Yamine, 14. Ayelen, 17. Maria Andrea, 17. Jhon Azariel, 5. Karla Andrea, 15. Ana Maria, 14. Misael Paco, 1 ½. Chico, who can also be called Tiko Tiko (this one is a missing dog). The brothers José Enrique and Mauricio Dennis, 10 and 13. Nayely, 12. José Maria, 9. Elio, 12. Carla, 14. Airon Daniel, 13. I guess that’s enough to give you an impression of the age group which is hit the hardest by inexplicable disappearances. By the way, the dog has three posters on that wall, each of the children only has one.

Vermisstenplakat 3.JPG

Although the posters are already faded and ripped, none of the pleas for help date from before September 2015. Many of them are from the still young year of 2016. (I took these photos and notes on 15 February 2016.) And these are only the people missing in Santa Cruz.

Upon leaving the terminal, I spot further missing person’s posters at the entrance. They are the brand-new cases. Ana Paola, 15, and Devora Natalia, 16.

Vermisstenplakat 4.JPG

When I raise this subject with people in town, they tell me anecdotes of human trafficking, prostitution, forced labor all the way to gruesome speculations about organ trafficking. Bolivia’s borders with Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay mostly run through the rainforest or sparsely populated areas that could only be policed with disproportionate effort. You hardly face any hurdles here, whether you are smuggling humans, drugs or pirated DVDs.

Humans often don’t even require smuggling because they travel across the border themselves. Many stories of forced labor and (forced) prostitution begin with promises of better-paid work in the factories or on the farms of neighboring countries. Once the Bolivian children are in Sao Paulo or Santiago, their “employers” take away their documents, don’t pay out the salary, lock them up in the basement and abuse them.

Too often activists against forced labor use the term “slavery”. I am rather cautious regarding that. For once, I think it trivializes real slavery. Second, even exploitative employment maintained by coercion is something different than trading humans like property. But the latter is exactly what happens on Bolivia’s borders, 128 years after Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery. In La Quiaca in Argentina, Bolivian children are sold for around 350 $.

But this doesn’t explain the missing babies and infants. Maybe they pop up with some North American or European family who always wanted to adopt a cute child.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Law, Photography, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Bolivia’s missing children

  1. Pingback: Bolivia’s missing children — The Happy Hermit | CHILDREN IN SHADOW ::: CHILDREN IN WAR

  2. Pingback: Boliviens vermisste Kinder | Der reisende Reporter

  3. curi56 says:

    thank you
    danke schön
    köszönöm szépen

    • You are most welcome.

    • curi56 says:

      Thank you; Andreas, is it o.k. when I paste the whole page of “Lost Children” – it is so important to write about these poorest – Sigmund Freud would Name our Decade : “DECADE OF TORTURING CHILDREN” – your Report is imminently important Thank you: Annamaria

  4. Kassia Cunha says:

    This is so sad, some of these children are of the age of my son. As a mom, news like this hurts me.
    Here in Brazil every day many, many children desaparecem too.

  5. When people are commodities, children become slaves. It will only get worse, as the West ravages the regions it will regard as its personal pantry until its filthy grasp is smashed by a global revolution.

    • I haven’t seen “the West” going around and snatching children.

    • Funny how that happens when you deny the legacy of colonialism. It lets you put Bolivia and Argentina into neat, seperate baskets unconnected to the cobbling inheritence of Western brutality.
      What your quotation marks indicate

    • I don’t “deny the legacy of colonialism”. I just don’t see the causality between colonialism (Bolivia became independent in 1825) and a sweat-shop owner in Brazil, who might well be Bolivian himself, looking for cheap labor in 2016.

      I didn’t put anything “into neat, separate baskets” either. Quite the contrary, I tried to show the connections between what’s happening in different countries and continents.

    • Well, there is a connection – and a compelling one . However, I agree with everything else you say -and your initial response was not nearly as rude as my comment was. In fact, your continued willingness to communicate shows good political faith.
      I can only apologise to you and hope to return with more humility, a bit later on, when I don’t want to immediately deport Congress myself at gunpoint.
      I don’t really lump all lawyers together – just the status quo they function to uphold. And I have no right to insult individual lawyers practically at random, as I did you.
      Heh, you’re pretty tough, hermano.
      Again, lo siento y hasta luego

    • No harm done, and thank you very much for your kind words. Making an apology online is a rare thing (I do it far less than I should) and shows greatness.
      I am looking forward to further fruitful discussions!

  6. You probably don’t deserve this long comment, but I was a staff reporter for six newspapers over a span of 18 years and you pissed me off.
    If you really want to be a journalist, stop using language like a lawyer. It makes editors yell at you, gives quotation marks a bad name, and everyone else on the planet a huge headache.

    By this, I mean that you are perfectly aware of both”West’s” standard, universal usage and of how I applied it to child slavery. Thus, your dismissive image of the West as a suddenly cartoonish figure, snatching (not kidnapping) removed my comment from the arena. I hate that what lawyers do to language is desribed by the same word for what I do. Mine was a serious comment re..a very sobering post, one that was well done and got my full attention..

    So just disagree, I beg you.Or make a joke about Left-wing rhetoric. But don’t jerk me around..My position isn’t an original one, god knows. Hundreds of brief arguments against it are practically floating around outside our respective heads.

    Sorry for the lecture. I’m old. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    • List of X says:

      I’m not exactly sure why the fact that a lawyer who is writing his personal blog uses language like a lawyer is pissing you off, but I’m pretty sure that Andreas’s improper use of language is also the fault of Western colonialism.

    • Good point.
      Why am I writing in English anyway? I am German and I live in Peru, damn it. Ab jetzt geht es hier auf Deutsch weiter. O en espanol. Maldito imperialismo lingüistico!

    • List of X says:

      Okay, but these are all Western colonial languages, too. Maybe a Western non-colonial language might work, like Albanian or Basque.

    • Or a non-Western, non-colonial language like Quechua. But wait, the Incas were actually attacking and colonizing their neighbors. So maybe colonialism is not a Western invention, but we already had it in South America before the Spanish came? Now things are getting complicated.

    • Politically improper, yes – considering its heartbreaking source. If you’re thinking of grammar – um, let’s just move along.
      Your point is unrelated to my point because it is based soley on additional info added by yourself. My own comment was restricted only to Andreas’ reply. I have no basis for further opinion.
      At any rate, it seems best to end this unfortunate discussion. I apologise for initiating it.

    • I have essentially retracted the above comment as a leap of judgement, disrespectfully expressed. I sent an apology and something of a clarification, and hope it can replace the previous excess of my quick political temper…I blame it on the bad influence of too many Irish relatives ( a joke, a joke!)

  7. Pingback: BOLIVIA´S MISSING CHILDREN – Thank you Andreas Moser reporting this | CHILDREN IN SHADOW ::: CHILDREN IN WAR

  8. Unfortunately, most of the disappeared children have been kidnapped by human traffickers, smuggled into neighboring countries and forced to work in prostitution. It’s the worst nightmare of all the Bolivian parents I’ve spoken too here. Slavery is the correct term for it. Worse still, this includes the disappearing 1-2 yo babies too.

  9. oakpointthebook says:

    good work, AM. i will be re-posting. you should write for CochaBanner [english].

  10. Pingback: Happy Easter! | The Happy Hermit

  11. K says:

    Do you have any better photos of the children? Any idea where I can search them online? I’m looking for any of infants/toddlers that may have been stolen before age 2. I’ve tried searching to see if there is an international database but am not coming up with anything other than the website and those are just children from the US.

    • Thank you for your interest in this!
      I am traveling at the moment, but please remind me in a few days, then I will search for the website of a Bolivian organization and post the link.

  12. Pingback: On the Orient Express in Bolivia | The Happy Hermit

  13. A few years ago they found in Buenos Aires Argentina a clothing factory with Bolivian workers in inhumane conditions that did not let them out and exploited them to the extreme with one meal a day. It is also true that foreigners come who cannot have children and to avoid the paperwork it is easier to steal a Bolivian child and the saddest reality is that there are native farmers who sell or give away their children because they have many.

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