REGIONAL NEWS

Spanish social services take charge of 13 children from father with 36 kids

‘El Canuto’ lives with 28 family members in a cave-home in Granada, and authorities describe a domestic situation characterized by physical and psychological abuse

Juan Manuel "El Canuto" surrounded by his family in Granada.
Juan Manuel "El Canuto" surrounded by his family in Granada.EFE

Looking too closely at the figures when it comes to Juan Manuel “El Canuto,” as he is known, can be risky. The following numbers are the most accurate available, given that they come from official documents held by the local authorities. El Canuto is 61 years old, and lives with three different women, with whom he has a total of 36 children. Six with Piedad, 16 with María Dolores, and 14 with Soledad. Two of his children have died.

Juan Manuel lives in Marchal, in the southern province of Granada, and this week, the Civil Guard took custody of 11 of his children. The next day, Juan Manuel had to hand over two more. In total, 13 minors: seven girls and six boys aged between three and 15, and who are now being taken care of by the local social services. Some of them have been taken to a center for the protection of minors, while others have been taken in directly by foster families.

Juan Manuel lives in Marchal, in the southern province of Granada, and this week, the Civil Guard took custody of 11 of his children

The figures for El Canuto are completed with the number of people who make up his family unit: 28, 17 of whom are minors. And behind those figures, of course, is the reality of his living situation with so many sons and daughters.

The public prosecutor for minors and social services have studied the risks faced by the children living with their father and mothers, concluding that there is a risk of physical and emotional abuse, exposure to situations of violence between their parents and members of the family unit, alleged sexual abuse of some of the daughters, and serious negligence in terms of family care. There is an even greater risk for the girls, according to the report from the authorities, due to their gender.

Based on these conclusions, there was no other option but to take the children from the family home, in which Juan Manuel is the person who “establishes the rules of behavior for all members of the family (including women, adults and minors), based on one-way and authoritarian communication, and a relation of behavioral and emotional subjugation and dependency among all family members,” the report states. “That disciplinary control is carried out using threats, humiliation and alleged physical abuse. […] There is also a clear difference in terms of gender, with discrimination against the women and girls.”

Now that the children have been removed from the family home, a process will begin that could eventually see the biological parents lose custody altogether. The Andalusian regional government would then be responsible for the children.

El Canuto gained certain fame a decade or so ago, when a TV show ran a feature about him. In it, he managed to show an amiable, almost innocent side. But the images revealed a devastating reality. His home, then and now, is one of Granada’s “cave houses,” without drinking water and barely any furniture. Plastic chairs and beds are practically all that the property holds, those who have been inside explain. In the program, he admitted “not having worked a day in my life.” Today, he could still say the same thing. He also boasts about never having been in jail, despite having come close to it and having a criminal record.

Now that the children have been removed from the family home, a process will begin that could eventually see the biological parents lose custody altogether

But the side he showed on the screen is not the one that they recognize in Marchal, a place with just over 400 inhabitants, located 50 kilometers west of Granada. No one will speak about him. Not even Juan Manuel García Segura, the mayor, who politely fields a phone call from EL PAÍS, but refuses to voice an opinion. “I want to stay on the sidelines and let the professionals talk about this issue,” he says. As to whether El Canuto’s extended family creates concern within the town, the mayor will only explain the reason for his silence. “You have to understand our situation: journalists leave and we and our families have to stay here, and we have to be very careful because later things happen and they are irreversible.”

Perhaps because of these fears, the operation to remove the children involved a lot of hardware. The team sent to the property was made up of 40 Civil Guard officers wearing bullet-proof vests, some of them with submachine guns, and organized into three groups. With them were specialists from social services who know the minors well, and were in charge of explaining the situation so that they understood the need for what was happening.

The first group went to the Guadix school-residence, around 10 kilometers from Marchal, and where four of his children live from Monday to Friday. The second group took charge of the children who were in class at the local school. But the last three children had to be removed from El Canuto’s house. While there were fears that the situation could turn nasty, the handover was fast and peaceful.

The team sent to the property was made up of 40 civil guards wearing bullet-proof vests, some of them with submachine guns

The day after the operation, El Canuto denied everything. Speaking to Spanish news agency EFE, Juan Manuel said that his children had been “kidnapped,” and denied that the minors were living in bad conditions, saying that the reasons that the Andalusia regional government had cited for taking away his children were “libelous.”

The 13 children removed this week from El Canuto’s home are not the only ones to have left the family residence recently. In fact, although the prosecutor and social and education services have spent time working with the family, just over a year ago an incident took place that precipitated the removal of the children this week. One of the daughters ran away from the family home, and reported an alleged case of sexual abuse. Shortly after, another of the daughters did the same. Both are now under the care of the state, meaning that a total of 15 of the children are now away from the risk zone that the home presents, according to the authorities’ report.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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