Mexico rescues 458 children from squalid refuge amid abuse fears

MEXICO CITY Wed Jul 16, 2014 12:20am EDT

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico said on Tuesday it had rescued 458 children from a vermin-infested refuge for abandoned boys and girls, some of whom it believes were sexually abused.

The attorney general's office said police and army troops raided a home known as "La Gran Familia" (The Big Family) in the western city of Zamora on Tuesday, following at least 50 complaints about its operators.

Infested by rats, bedbugs and fleas, the refuge was run by Rosa Verduzco, who is now being questioned by authorities, the government said.

The refuge was home to 278 boys, 174 girls and six infants as well as 138 adults aged up to 40, the government said.

"We found that there were around 500 children in truly terrible conditions," Attorney General Jesus Murillo said.

Five complaints by parents that the home would not return their children to them prompted authorities to act, he added.

The children in the refuge had to beg for money on the streets, eat unsanitary food and sleep on the floor among vermin, officials said. Some suffered sexual abuse, they added.

Babies born in the refuge were registered as children of Verduzco and their parents were given no say in their upbringing, said Tomas Zeron, director of the attorney general's criminal investigation unit.

One desperate parent even offered Verduzco 10,000 pesos ($770) to return her young daughters, Zeron said.

La Gran Familia was founded in 1947 and looks after children abandoned by troubled parents, the refuge says on its Facebook page. It also provides schooling for the children.

Its funding came from charitable donations, as well as companies and the government, it said. No one could be reached at the refuge via a telephone number on the Facebook page.

Authorities are treating the children for psychological and sexual abuse as well as seeking out suitable homes for the victims, the government said.

($1 = 12.95 Mexican Pesos)

(Reporting by Anahi Rama and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Kieran Murray and Clarence Fernandez)

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