At least 11 children were reportedly subjected to long-term ill-treatment at the hands of their caretakers in the Peces Vivos center in the city of Ibagué, western Colombia. The facility was contracted by the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), a government agency tasked with “comprehensive protection of infancy, childhood, adolescence and well-being of families.”
Prosecutors say that the employees of Peces Vivos did exactly the opposite, effectively turning children’s life in the institution into a nightmare.
“The children were subjected to degrading acts of cruelty. They were tethered to their beds. The people who supposedly looked after them and had to protect their rights gave them drugs to keep them under control and applied military doctrine to punish them,” child welfare prosecutor Mario Gomez said, as cited by Colombia Reports.
Police began looking into the reports of wide-ranging human rights violations in the facility since June after a former employee leaked information to the prosecutor’s office and local police.
As a result of the investigation, 10 of the center’s employees were placed under arrest and charged with torture and conspiracy to commit a crime and to destroy evidence.
City police chief Colonel Jorge Morales said that one of the punishments administered by the workers to the disabled children was throwing soup in their faces if they refused to eat.
While the abhorrent nursing practices came to light only now, locals say they were constantly hearing blood-curdling yells and pleas for help from behind the closed doors of the facility, which was known locally as a “house of terror.”
"Day and night, I heard the heartbreaking screams of young people interned in that house," a local woman said, as cited by El Tiempo, adding that last week she heard a young man crying for help as though he was about to be killed.
Despite all the signs of abuse, nobody attempted to stop the suspected mistreatment as the center’s authorities made sure no information seeped out.
"The house was always closed, even padlocked, to hide the abuse against children," another woman said.
In the wake of the revelations, the center was temporarily shut down and children, some of them severely traumatized, transferred to other institutions.