Children of Guatemala

Children of Guatemala

Realizing Children’s Rights in Guatemala


After 36 years of civil war, with more than 200,000 victims and 45,000 people that have disappeared, Guatemala is struggling to rebuild. The situation of children is difficult and laborious. Many problems affect the rights of the youth, most notably among the aboriginal children.


Realization of Children’s Rights Index : 7,29 / 10
Red level : Difficult situation

Population: 14 million
Pop. ages 0-14: 36,8 %

Life expectancy: 72,1 years
Under-5 mortality rate: 24 ‰


Main problems faced by children in Guatemala:


In Guatemala, 56% of the population lives below the poverty line. This situation affects most severely the children of minorities. Poverty has many consequences on the lives of children: health problems, malnutrition, and obligation to work to the detriment of their education.

Right to health

Guatemala doesn’t offer sufficient health services to meet the needs of the entire population. Thus, some health problems that particularly affect children are not able to be improved. For example, the infant mortality rate is very high.

Furthermore, it lacks much of the infrastructure and personnel suitable for the country. The health of children is, therefore, difficult to ensure and diseases are diverse and numerous. Also, many traditional mindsets are opposed to necessary care and consequently creates a supplemental barrier to the rights of children’s health.

Child labor

More than 20% of Guatemalan children are forced to work to contribute to their family’s income. This situation is one of the worst in Latin America. Employers take advantage of the youth and ignorance of these children, having them do the most dangerous work. They work in many different sectors: polishing shoes, night work in factories, washing cars, street vendors, construction workers, maids or even garbage collectors.

They are exploited ruthlessly in strenuous and sometimes dangerous situations. The repercussions are serious: they suffer from many health problems and cannot receive normal education.

Exploitation of children

Guatemala is home to much illicit and dangerous trafficking. Children are the first victims of criminals who use them without hesitation. As in many countries, poverty proliferates activities such as; drug trafficking, prostitution, pornography, child trafficking, organ trafficking and illegal adoption. Children are confronted by violence and insecurity in the streets; they are targets and the means of action necessary for traffickers. The prevailing crime and impunity ensures that little is done to prevent this.

Young girls are the main victims of these criminals. They are seriously abused, and exhibit much evidence of torture and sexual abuse.

Violence towards children

Violence is very destructive in Guatemala and it affects many children.
In the streets, it creates a climate of insecurity and danger. The rate of child murders is alarming and very often the criminals remain unpunished (98% of cases). Children’s right to protection, guaranteed by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is not properly ensured. Thus, Guatemalan children constantly risk their lives and are sometimes confronted by extreme and cruel violence.

In addition, violence can also be seen within families as well as at school. Corporal punishment is accepted for the most part and practiced by a population that does not use any other method. Thus many children are abused and end up on their own, with no secure place to go. Neither their family, nor their school saves them from it.

Child marriage

35% of young Guatemalan girls are married before the age of 18. They are prepared very early for their future status as wives and they are still unable to understand the implications. Such marriages have dire consequences on the physical health and psyche of the young girls.

Rights of aboriginal children

Native minorities such as the Maya, the Garifuna and the Xinca constitute more than half of the total population in Guatemala. They are constantly victims of acts of discrimination and are marginalized in society. The aboriginal children, primary victims of this segregation, find a good number of obstacles to the enjoyment of their fundamental rights.

Information about their rights and protection is considerably lacking in this country. They are much more vulnerable and more affected by these rampant issues in Guatemala. These native children suffer immensely from extreme poverty and the malnutrition that follows. They are susceptible to sexual and economic exploitation. Their situation is dramatic, especially as they face ignorance or worse, hate from the rest of the population.

Right to Food

The lack of food is a daily concern for many Guatemalan families. Poverty prevents them from obtaining a sufficient amount of food to fulfill the nutritional needs of everyone. Children are the first victims. In 2009, half of children suffered from chronic malnutrition, and the percentage is even higher for native children.

The health problems linked to these issues are numerous and can be very serious: stunted growth, fatigue, weakened immune system and diarrhea.