Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Dead Babies' of Guatemala

Vultures circle overhead as the decomposed bodies of babies are pulled from their 'final' resting places and thrown carelessly into plastic bags. Each year, Guatemala City's cemetery workers use sledgehammers to break open crypts belonging to babies and children, simply because their poverty-stricken families can no longer afford the $24 rent on the plot. In a heartbreaking series of images, photographer Saul Martinez sheds light on the country's forgotten children destined for a mass grave at the edge of the city's rubbish dump.

Six years after the body of an adult or a child is laid to rest in the main cemetery in Guatemala City - the capital of the Central American country - relatives must pay $24 to cover the cost of the plot for four more years. If they are unable to pay, the crypts are smashed into and the coffins, some tiny and decorated with white satin, are prized open. The little corpses, still dressed in the clothes they were buried in or swaddled in blankets, are ripped from the boxes and rolled into bundles. Grieving relatives can collect the bodies, but often they are just wrapped in plastic bags before being disposed of in a mass grave. 

The decomposed body of a baby wrapped in the blanket

A doll, bottle and blankets discarded after being removed from a coffin at Guatemala City cemetery

Cemetery workers use sledgehammers to break into coffins removed from tombs.

A cemetery worker holds the body of a baby in his arms after it was pulled from its tomb

Maria Gomez received the remains of her son, who died in 1983. He was exhumed and moved to a cemetery closer to her home

Tiny coffins, adorned with satin, are loaded on a wheelbarrow and as children's bodies are stuffed in plastic bags

A girl reaches up to place flowers next to the crypts.

The yellow and navy blue dress of a child who was buried at the cemetery is held up by one of the men who exhumed her.

Tombs, which once contained loved ones, lie vacant

Bodies are bagged up and unceremoniously dumped into a mass grave 40 meters down

Vultures circle overhead as the bodies of babies are removed from their crypts and dumped in plastic bags at the cemetery.

Photo series credit: Saul Martinez 

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