In Guatemala, giving birth during the night of 31st December and 1st January can have big rewards. Since 1956, a national daily newspaper has been running the “stork marathon”, a competition that gives out prizes to the three women the stork visits first. The mothers and their newborns win nappies, bottles, cribs and even mattresses. But the lighthearted contest can carry certain risks, says our Observer, gynaecologist Vinicio Del Valle.

The "marathon" is organised by the newspaper Prensa Libre in a number of maternity wards across the country, and it’s become a hallowed tradition. Now, videos are often posted online showing inside of delivery rooms. At the beginning of January, two videos of the competition were published on social media. They were filmed in different hospitals, and show a crowd of doctors and nurses celebrating a successful birth just seconds after the clock struck midnight in 2019.

One of the hospitals confirmed to FRANCE 24 that the women had given their permission to be captured on video. But some internet users have been shocked by the scenes of celebration in the hospitals. “So many people? Is this real? How is it possible to be so disrespectful?" says one Twitter user.

"Delaying delivery by a few minutes could give the baby mental damage"

The competition is worrying for our Observer Vinicio Del Valle, an obstetrician-gynaecologist and the coordinator of the Multidisciplinary Group for the Defence of Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Guatemala.

I saw this kind of thing when I was a medical student, but at the time, I didn’t realise that it was a problem. I remember hearing them say, “Don’t push, hold on!” so that the women didn’t give birth before midnight. But delaying birth by a few minutes can potentially give the baby mental damage.

Del Valle was also struck by the lack of privacy these women had during their deliveries.

The delivery room was filled with health professionals, but also with journalists who were there to film the event! Maybe the women did give their permission, but in a country where the state barely gives anything to its citizens, women see this kind of competition as a chance to get things that they wouldn’t be able to have otherwise. In the past, one of the winners even won a house.