Rescued Colombia children recovering, relatives in custody tussle

The Colombian Family Welfare Institute says the four children rescued from the jungle are ‘in high spirits’ as relatives claim custody.

The four children rescued in the Colombian Amazon after wandering the jungle for 40 days following a plane crash are showing “satisfactory” recovery, welfare officials said, as reports of a battle for custody of the siblings emerged.

The four Huitoto Indigenous children – Lesly, Soleiny, Tien Noriel and Cristin – aged 13, nine, five and one respectively – have received treatment at a military hospital in the Colombian capital Bogota since they were found hungry and dehydrated on Friday, five weeks after going missing in the jungle.

Their mother had died in the crash, which also killed the pilot and another adult passenger.

Adriana Velasquez of the Colombian Family Welfare Institute said on Monday that the children were “in high spirits”.

“They have been colouring, drawing. They love to talk,” she said.

The older siblings had been fighting fever spikes, a colleague of Velasquez, Astrid Caceres, told Colombia’s W Radio, while Tien Noriel was being monitored for a possible reaction to something he ate.

Tien Noriel was too weak to walk by the time rescuers found the four after searching more than 2,600 km (1,615 miles) of jungle only to discover them some 5 km (about 3 miles) from the wreck of the small plane. General Pedro Sanchez, who led the search effort as chief of the military’s Special Operations Command, said rescuers had passed within 20 to 50 meters (70 to 160 feet) of the site where the children were found on a couple of occasions but missed them.

The youngest of the siblings remains in intensive care “not due to any serious condition but for closer monitoring due to her age”, Caceres said.

The children are expected to remain in hospital for another two to three weeks.

Caceres said that a caseworker was assigned to the children at the request of their maternal grandparents who are vying for custody with the father of the two youngest children.

“We are going to talk, investigate, learn a little about the situation,” Caceres said, adding that the agency has not ruled out that they and their mother may have experienced domestic abuse.

“The most important thing at this moment is the children’s health, which is not only physical but also emotional, the way we accompany them emotionally,” she said.

On Sunday, grandfather Narciso Mucutuy accused Manuel Ranoque of beating his daughter, Magdalena Mucuty, telling reporters the children would hide in the forest during the fights.

Ranoque acknowledged to reporters there had been trouble at home but characterised it as a private family matter and not “gossip for the world”.
Ranoque said he has not been allowed to see the two oldest children at the hospital. Caceres declined to comment on why that was the case.

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