The town, near the U.S.-Mexico border, was little more than dozens of make shift homes constructed out of a variety of scrap materials.
Children clamored at the sight of strangers, asking for food and money.
There were no parents in sight.
This was the humbling scene in one of the border communities in Juarez, Mexico, where I recently traveled with the Wilson Center’s Foreign Policy Fellowship Program. Our itinerary took us to Mexico City and Juarez, where we met with a number of U.S. Embassy staff, Mexican government employees, non-profit volunteers, and Cross Border Patrol officials.
In Mexico City, it was easy to see the benefits from accessible family planning and reproductive health care options. But the women and families of Juarez face a much different reality. Juarez’s border communities are beholden to gang wars, extreme poverty, and a prolific drug trade. In the past few years, the level of violence has decreased dramatically, but improving quality of life has stalled.
In circumstances like these, you can imagine it’s hard to track exact data on birth rates, infant mortality rates, and modern contraceptive use. But the effects of a lack of family planning and reproductive health care are there in plain sight. One family we met had 5 children, all under 10 years old and all within a few to each other.
Recent developments in Mexico’s family planning program are often hailed as a success story. The country’s use of modern contraception skyrocketed from 23 percent in the 1970s to more than 60 percent in the mid-1990s, helping yield a drop to 2.7 children per family by 2006. Since then, infant and maternal death rates have continued to decline, and the nation’s unmet need for family planning has also decreased significantly. But overall contraceptive use numbers in Mexico look better because often they are only able to collect data from places like Mexico City. The people of Juarez are often not counted. Their reality is ignored.
With the recent decrease in crime in Juarez I am hopeful the Mexican Government and others are able to start not only tracking this data, but to start providing basic health needs as well. The families of Juarez deserve it.