Children’s Day in Paraguay has its roots in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), the most devastating war ever fought in South America. It was fought between Paraguay (on one side) and Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (on the other).
Needless to say, Paraguay didn’t win. In fact, it lost half its population during the war—including nearly all its fighting-age men—as well as 60,000 square miles of territory to Brazil and Argentina. (Latin America’s Wars: the Age of the Caudillo (1791-1899) Robert Scheina)
Children’s Day recalls the anniversary of the one of the last battles of the war in 1869, the Battle of Acosta Nu. Having already lost most of his army, Paraguayan dictator Francisco Lopez used younger and younger recruits. The 6,000 strong force in August of that year was largely made out of children. On August 16, the small retreating army was overtaken by a force of 20,000 men from Brazil and Argentina. Within eight hours, over 2000 Paraguayans lay dead.
Paraguayans say the additional tragedy was that the war was already over at that point, but that the Brazilian government refused to stop until Lopez was captured.
The War of the Triple Alliance remains one of the darkest chapters in South American history.