The missing children of El Salvador

Sixteen years after the end of El Salvador’s civil war, the whereabouts of hundreds of children who disappeared during the conflict remain unknown.

29 March has been designated as the “Day dedicated to the children who disappeared during the internal conflict” in El Salvador. Yet the country’s government has done little to reunite the missing children with their families, despite an international ruling obliging them to do so.

Of more than 700 children who disappeared in the conflict (1980-1992), around 330 have been located, largely due to the work of a local human rights organization. The rest still remain unaccounted for.

Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz, sisters aged 7 and 3, are two such victims. They were captured by the Salvadorean army on 2 June 1982. After the war, the girls’ mother submitted a complaint about her daughters’ kidnapping.

The Inter-American Human Rights Court ruled in 2005, after years of wrangling and a complete failure to locate the Serrano Cruz sisters, that the El Salvador authorities had violated the girls’ human rights by failing to investigate their disappearance.

The government was ordered to take a series of measures to aid the search for disappeared persons, including establishing a national commission, a DNA database and a web database. Three years after the ruling, very few of these obligations have been fulfilled.

Amnesty International is concerned at the lack of political will to move forward with this case. It has called on the Salvadorean authorities, in particular the President and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, to take measures to fully investigate the cases of the disappeared children, including that of the Serrano Cruz sisters.

Until the government fulfils these obligations, the families of El Salvador’s missing children will continue to be deprived of the justice they deserve.