Realizing Children’s Rights in Honduras
Undeniably, both the COVID-19 pandemic and the various climate change-induced natural disasters suffered by the Honduran populace have negatively impacted the condition of children in Honduras. Nevertheless, it is necessary to highlight that several problems and challenges had been present for a long time previously. Poverty, migration, sexual violence, and insecurity are issues that must be tackled urgently in order to improve the quality of life of children and adolescents in Honduras.
Children’s Rights Index: 7,30 / 10
Red level : Difficult situation
Pop. ages 0-14: 31.27%
Life expectancy: 62.8 years
Under-5 mortality rate: 16.8 ‰
Honduras at a glance
Honduras is a small country located in Central America, bordered by Guatemala and El Salvador to the west and Nicaragua to the east. It is divided into 18 departments and 298 municipalities. The country has possessed democratic institutions since 1982. However, these were only consolidated in the 1990s (Taylor-Robinson, M., 2009, p. 472).
Between 1994 and 2001, significant changes were made to the national constitution, including the subordination of the military to the executive authority, the end of compulsory military service, and the separation of the police and the military sphere (Taylor-Robinson, M., 2009, pp. 472-473). From 2009, women and ethnic minority candidates gained representative seats in general elections (Taylor-Robinson, M., 2009, p. 487).
The challenges that the country has faced in recent years include poverty, inequality, violence, insecurity, impunity, a health crisis caused by COVID-19, a humanitarian crisis, and losses due to hurricanes Eta and Iota in November 2020 (The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras (UNHCR), 2022, p. 2).
In this respect, the declaration of a state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed for an abuse of power by the authorities leading to over 80 thousand arrests, instances of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced disappearances, summary executions, gender-based violence by government officials and the infringement of freedom of expression (UNHCR, 2022).
Growing up in Honduras has now become more a question of survival and protection from violence than commitment and improvement of educational facilities. Without a doubt, this has been characterised by the high rates of insecurity caused by Honduras’ position in the last decade as one of the world’s most violent countries, reaching a total of 86.5 murders per 100,000 citizens (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 2019, p. 36). A principal cause of violence is the system of drugs trafficking and organised crime prevalent in the country in tandem with other countries in the region (IACHR, 2019, p. 36).
Status of children’s rights 
Honduras ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) in 1990. It also ratified both the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2002) and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2002) in 2002.
Neither individual nor collective complaints in relation to violations of the provisions of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child can yet be made to the Committee on the Rights of the Child since the state of Honduras has not yet ratified the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure (2011).
From a regional perspective, Honduras ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, also known as the Pact of San José (1969), in 1977. In this regard, it is important to mention that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has interpreted and applied Article 19 of the Convention very creatively. On many occasions, it has regarded both this and the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a comprehensive corpus iuris (Villagrán Morales and others vs. Guatemala, 1999, para. 194).
Moreover, Honduras ratified the Additional Protocol to The American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights or the “Protocol of San Salvador” (1988) in 2011. This principally established the obligation on member states to guarantee sufficient food and education for children and adolescents.
Finally, at a national level, both the Constitution of the Republic of Honduras and the Childhood and Adolescence Code act as the principal legal bodies that protect and guarantee children’s rights in Honduran territory. At the time, the Committee on the Rights of the Child commended the efforts of the Honduran state in reconciling national legislation and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, it also highlighted the worrying situation caused by the poor enforcement of child-related legislation (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2015, para. 7).
Addressing the needs of children
Right to education
In accordance with Article 36 of the Childhood and Adolescence Code, primary education is compulsory and free. Nevertheless, the Honduran educational system suffers many issues which hinder the exercising of the fundamental right to education.
Among these is the deterioration of educational infrastructure, impeded access to basic services such as drinking water and electricity, and the lack of biosecurity measures in the context of a pandemic (Agencia EFE, 2022; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Spanish Government, 2021). Of course, this situation has been greatly aggravated due to climate change, and this has been subsequently reflected in the low levels of schooling recorded in the last year (El Heraldo, 2022).
Discontinuity in primary and secondary schooling in Honduras lasted for several months due to lockdowns with the aim of preventing the spread of COVID-19. In many countries around the world, this gave rise to new methods of learning, such as virtual schooling. The internet has provided an alternative, thus preventing regression in education, and offering continuity to classes at various educational levels. However, this was not totally possible in Honduras.
In 2021, it was recorded that only 26.8% of the under-15 population had access to the internet for formal educational purposes and training exercises (Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE), 2021). Therefore, out of 2.9 million school-age students, an estimated 1.2 million were effectively excluded from formal education, in many cases due to the inability to access internet services or electronic devices (UNHCR, 2022, p. 11). This particularly affected children and adolescents from indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities and those from rural areas, who, due to their geographical location, cannot access the aforementioned services (UNHCR, 2022, p. 11).
In light of these issues, the resumption of in-person and hybrid classes constitutes a challenge for the government in office even today. In fact, it is estimated that only 2% of the youth population have returned to classes (Casa Alianza Honduras, 2022, p. 14). In part, this is due to the misfortune caused by Eta and Iota across Honduras, destroying over 500 schools and leaving children and adolescents without a means to study.
Furthermore, it has been found that almost 20% of educational centres do not have access to drinking water, 40% do not have electricity and less than 5% have internet access and/or computer rooms (UNHCR, 2022, p. 11). This makes for a particularly worrying situation in having the potential to cause a wave of children and adolescents to drop out and have to take to the streets in search of food and work.
Right to health
Health is a fundamental human right, indispensable in the exercise of other human rights. Every human being has the right to the highest possible level of health which permits them to lead a decent life. In the context of the pandemic, restrictions in accessing quality health facilities that benefit the general Honduran population have been uncovered, especially in respect to those who are located away from main urban centres (UNHCR, 2022, p. 11).
While global vaccination against COVID-19 began at the end of 2022, vaccine doses only arrived on Honduran shores in March 2021, thanks principally to international cooperation through the COVAX framework. In this way, the vaccination of minors in Honduras was undertaken in January 2022.
Various factors currently affect the well-being of Honduran children and adolescents. Below, some of these issues will be briefly discussed in evidence of the Honduran state’s failure to fulfil its obligation to protect and guarantee the right to health.
Right to food
Malnutrition in children is a problem rooted in social, economic, and environmental factors. Even though the right to food and nutrition is a fundamental human right, food insecurity sadly permeated Honduras’ child population long before the pandemic. In 2001, 33% of children under 5 lived with chronic malnutrition. There was an improvement 11 years later (2012) when a level of 22.6% was recorded (UNICEF, 2019).
Certainly, a large percentage of the population does not have access to proper nutrition. Indeed, it is estimated that this percentage increased from 41.6% in 2016 to 45.6% in 2020 (FAO, FIDA, OMS, PMA and UNICEF, 2021), a worrying situation due to the levels of malnutrition both in minors and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Right to water
The health situation is also closely linked to inadequate access to basic services such as water, sanitation, and hygiene. In 2015, UNICEF carried out a survey in different households in which 44.7% declared having no public or private access to drinking water, of which 46.5% depended on faraway water sources and were forced to make long journeys in order to obtain water (UNICEF, 2015, p. 17).
47.3% of households undertook a process in their homes to clean their water, such as adding chlorine to be able to consume it (UNICEF, 2016, p. 17). On the other hand, 24% of households stated that they did not treat their water at all before consuming it (UNICEF, 2016, p. 17). This situation exposes many children and adolescents to the danger of contracting illnesses such as diarrhoea and others (UNICEF, 2016, p. 17).
Risk factors → Country-specific challenges
A great number of Honduran children and adolescents are subject to commercial sexual exploitation. In many cases, they are placed in these situations by a member of their family or one of their friends (US Bureau of International Affairs, 2020, p. 2). Naturally, those children who are more financially restricted and have less basic education are in an even more vulnerable situation.
These children generally make up the victims of gangs who compel them to commit crimes such as murder, prostitution, arms trafficking, drug trafficking and more (US Bureau of International Affairs, 2020, p. 2). Moreover, Honduras has been characterised as a paradise for paedophiles, who mostly originate from the USA and Canada (US Bureau of International Affairs, 2020, p. 2).
In the wake of the natural disasters, a significant number of shelters remained active in the country in order to alleviate the effects of the emergency. However, many of these, in not possessing sufficient means of protection against abuse, such as the division of rooms by category, capable personnel and available information to prevent violence, have become centres of risk and exposure for minors (UNICEF, 2020).
Also, the introduction of lockdowns as a health measure gave rise to a high rate of domestic violence. In March and May 2020, Honduras reported over 40,000 cases of domestic and intrafamilial violence (UNHCR, UNICEF, 2020).
Murder rates are also cause for concern. Between 2008 and 2016, 3,540 children were killed, according to UNICEF (UNICEF, 2018, p. 83). In total, one murder was registered every 25 hours (UNICEF, 2018, p. 83). In 2014 in particular, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence recorded 15.9% of murder victims being children or adolescents under 18 years old (UNCIEF, 2019). Of these, 83% were boys and 70% were committed against people in the range of 16 to 18 years old (UNICEF, 2019).
Honduran legislation provides for custodial sentences for sexual abuse against minors, not just for the perpetrator but also for those who facilitate the crime. Even so, child and adolescent sexual exploitation constitutes a very serious issue in Honduras.
Moreover, Honduras continues to be one of the main tourist destinations for foreigners seeking to commit sexual acts with children. Violence is one of the principal causes of children dropping out of school in Honduras (IACHR, para. 228). It is estimated that 23.9% of girls and 14% of boys between 13 and 17 years old leave school due to physical violence (UNICEF, 2020, p. 2).
In 2014, a total of 1,980 sexual abuse causes were recorded, 91% against girls under 18 (UNICEF, 2019). 24% of adolescents between 15 and 19 became pregnant (UNICEF, 2019). In a more recent study, it was reported that 21.2% of adolescent girls do not attend school activities due to acts of sexual violence (UNICEF, 2020, p. 2). At least 4 crimes of sexual abuse against girls were committed per day in Honduras between 2013 and 2019 (UNICEF, 2020, p. 2).
Poverty, inequality, and social exclusion are evident in a large part of the Honduran population. In accordance with a study by UNICEF in 2016, 59.8% of children found themselves in multidimensional poverty, and of these, 35.7% were in severe poverty (UNICEF, 2016, p. 67).
Clearly, environmental events have provoked a calamity and exacerbated inequalities in Honduras. In 2021, the country recorded a total poverty rate of 73.6%: 19.9% relative poverty and 53.7% extreme poverty (INE, 2021). Only 26.4% of the population is considered to be out of poverty (INE, 2021).
After the environmental events, many citizens were displaced to temporary establishments, a situation which particularly affects children and adolescents whose parents have died or have been separated due to the crisis (UNICEF, 2020). Many of these minors end up in poverty, being trafficked, exploited, or put in an orphanage (UNICEF, 2020).
Regarding the legal framework on an international level, Honduras ratified the Minimum Age Convention No. 138 in 1980 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No 182 in 2001. Honduran national legislation establishes the minimum working age as 14 years old (Article 120, Childhood and Adolescence Code; Article 32, Work Code; Article 124, National Constitution).
The minimum working age for dangerous jobs is higher, namely 18 years old (Article 122, Childhood and Adolescence Code). Even though legislation permits those over 14 years old to undertake safe and selective employment under specific circumstances, many opt for work in the informal sector as this requires less bureaucracy in terms of respective documentation and authorisation.
Indicators from 2020 demonstrate that 9% of the population between 5 and 14 years old are working (US Bureau of International Affairs, 2020, p. 1). In terms of the sectors where this age range is most prevalent, we see that 53.3% of child labourers are in agriculture, cultivating melons, coffee, and maize, among other roles (US Bureau of International Affairs, 2020, p. 1). Statistically, 12.7% work in industry, for example, in small-scale mining, the manufacture and sale of fireworks and construction (US Bureau of International Affairs, 2020, p. 1).
Furthermore, 34% work in the service sector, a figure that includes those children and adolescents that rummage through landfills, wash car windscreens at traffic lights, beg, perform, or sell products on the street (US Bureau of International Affairs, 2020, p. 2). 4.4% of the 7–14-year-old population are working while attending classes. Furthermore, in 2017, a primary education completion rate of 90.7% was recorded (US Bureau of International Affairs, 2020, p. 1).
Insecurity, a more widespread lack of access to basic services, poverty, increased unemployment rates, lack of opportunities, insufficient incomes, violence, and, more generally, socioeconomic difficulties are often motives that push families to migrate to neighbouring countries. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters have exacerbated the migratory situation in Honduras.
A significant number of children and adolescents make the return journey unaccompanied and in groups of migrants. In this way, they are exposed to all kinds of risks, such as gang recruitment, forced labour, people trafficking, drug trafficking, sexual violence, discrimination, suffering illnesses, missing schooling, and lack of access to basic services such as clean water, food etc. In fact, 35.3% of Honduran children between the ages of 0 and 19 left the country in 2020, mostly heading for countries like Mexico, Spain, and the USA (International Labour Organisation (ILO), 2021, p. 5).
Consequently, with the adoption of a Centre for Disease Control and Prevention order, access to US territory was restricted for asylum seekers. This led to at least 13,000 children being expelled from northern Central America (ILO, 2021, p. 6). Among these, there were a total of 5,746 Honduran minors, including 3,849 boys and 1,897 girls (ILO, 2021, p. 6). According to the Consular and Migration Observatory of Honduras, a total of 7,918 Honduran children and adolescents were recorded to have been returned from different parts of the world (Consular and Migration Observatory of Honduras, CONMIGHO, 2021).
In Honduras, there are political, social, and economic issues that each government must attempt to tackle each year. To this, one must add the effects of climate change (tropical storms, cyclones, droughts, forest fires, and plagues) that have been directly affecting the country in recent years.
According to the National Hurricane Centre (NHC), 2020 culminated in the most active hurricane season in the region’s history, with a total of 30 storms. 968,333 people live in municipalities that have been identified as high-risk in terms of the effects of climate change, of whom 43.53% are under 18 years of age. The consequences of the hurricanes have been devastating (UNICEF, 2021).
Approximately 4.6 million people were affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota. According to UNICEF figures, over 1.7 million children and adolescents found themselves in high-risk circumstances as a result (UNICEF, 2020, p. 1). Of the 93,000 people searching for a safe place among the various establishments run by different organisations, presumably around 35,000 were children (UNICEF, 2020, p. 1). In fact, it has been revealed that 85% of affected households include minors (UNICEF, 2020, p. 1).
Written by Camila Ortiz
Translated by Kyle Estment
Revised by Ivana Kacunko
Last updated on 6 June 2022
Agencia de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR) y Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia (UNICEF) (2020)Familias que huyen. ¿Por qué se desplazan las familias desde el Norte de Centroamérica?.Obtenido de https://familiesontherun.org/es/, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Agencia EFE (2022) Se inician a medias las clases presenciales en la educación pública de Honduras. Obtenido de https://www.efe.com/efe/america/sociedad/se-inician-a-medias-las-clases-presenciales-en-la-educacion-publica-de-honduras/20000013-4785916, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
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Banco Mundial (2022), “Población entre 0 y 14 años de edad, hombres (% del total) –Honduras”. Obtenido del Banco Mundial en https://datos.bancomundial.org/indicator/SP.POP.0014.MA.ZS?end=2020&locations=HN&start=2020&view=map, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Casa Alianza Honduras (Marzo 2022) Informe mensual de la situación de los derechos de las niñas, niños y jóvenes en Honduras. Obtenido de Casa Alianza Honduras enhttp://casa-alianza.org.hn/new.casa-alianza.org.hn/datos_descargables/observatorio/Informes-2022/InformesMensuales/Informe_mensual_marzo_2022.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Caso de los “Niños de la Calle” (Villagrán Morales y otros vs. Guatemala) Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (19 de noviembre 1999).
Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (27 de agosto 2019) Informe de país. Situación de derechos humanos en Honduras.OEA/Ser.L/V/II. Doc. 146. Obtenido de CIDH en http://www.oas.org/es/cidh/informes/pdfs/Honduras2019.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
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El Heraldo (1 de enero 2022) Baja Escolaridad y pobreza, problemas de la educación en este 2022. Obtenido de https://www.elheraldo.hn/honduras/baja-escolaridad-pobreza-problemas-educacion-honduras-2022-PYEH1507945, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
FAO, FIDA, OMS, PMA y UNICEF (2021)El estado de la seguridad alimentaria y la nutrición en el mundo 2021. Transformación de los sistemas alimentarios en aras de la seguridad alimentaria, una nutrición mejorada y dietas asequibles y saludables para todos. Obtenido de https://www.fao.org/3/cb4474es/cb4474es.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia (UNICEF) (2016) Ahora lo urgente. Impacto de la sequía en las niñas, niños y adolescentes del corredor seco de Honduras. Obtenido de https://www.unicef.org/honduras/media/486/file/Ahora-lo-urgente-sequ%C3%ADa-estudio-2016.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia (UNICEF) (2016)Los múltiples rostros de la pobreza infantil en Honduras: Un desafío prioritario. Obtenido de https://www.unicef.org/honduras/media/441/file/Los-multiples-rostros-de-la-pobreza-infantil-Honduras-estudio-2017.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia (UNICEF) (2018) Informe de situación sobre los derechos de la niñez y adolescencia en Honduras. Obtenido de https://www.unicef.org/honduras/media/176/file/SITAN-informe-2018.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia (UNICEF) (2019) Protección de la niñez frente a la violencia. Obtenido de https://www.unicef.org/honduras/que-hacemos/protecci%C3%B3n-de-la-ni%C3%B1ez-frente-la-violencia,consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia UNICEF (2020) Miles de niños, niñas y adolescentes aún se encuentran en albergues temporales como resultado del Huracán ETA. Obtenido de https://www.unicef.org/honduras/comunicados-prensa/miles-de-ni%C3%B1os-ni%C3%B1as-y-adolescentes-a%C3%BAn-se-encuentran-en-albergues-temporales, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
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Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia (UNICEF) (27 de diciembre 2021) Documento del programa para el país. Honduras, E/ICEF/2022/P/L.10. Obtenido dehttps://www.unicef.org/executiveboard/media/9051/file/2022-PL10-Honduras-CPD-ES-ODS.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Gobierno de España. Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación (23 de julio de 2021) La educación, en riesgo extremo en Honduras. Obtenido de https://www.aecid.es/ES/Paginas/Sala%20de%20Prensa/Historias/23_07_21_Educaci%C3%B3nHonduras.aspx, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Organización Panamericana de la Salud. Organización Mundial de la Salud (2022) Honduras. Obtenido de https://www.paho.org/es/honduras#:~:text=Los%20a%C3%B1os%20medios%20de%20educaci%C3%B3n,de%2062.8%20a%C3%B1os%20(2019), consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) (2021) Encuesta Permanente de Hogares de Propósitos Múltiples. Obtenido de https://www.ine.gob.hn/V3/ephpm/https://www.unicef.org/honduras/media/176/file/SITAN-informe-2018.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos en Honduras (OACNUDH) (4 de marzo 2022) Informe del Alto Comisionado de las NU para los Derechos Humanos sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en Honduras, A/HRC/49/21. Obtenido de OHCHR en https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/2022-03/A_HRC_49_21_AdvanceUneditedVersion.docx, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT) (2021) Ficha Técnica. Empleo y Migración Honduras 2021. Obtenido de https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—americas/—ro-lima/—sro-san_jose/documents/publication/wcms_831266.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Observatorio Consular y Migratorio de Honduras (CONMIGHO) (2021) Retornados 2021. Obtenido de https://conmigho.hn/retornados-2021/, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
Taylor-Robinson, Michelle M., Honduras: Una Mezcla de Cambio y Continuidad, Vol. 29 No. 2 (Departamento de Ciencias Políticas, Texas A&M University, 2009) 471-489.
US. Bureau of International Affairs (2020)Findingsontheworstformsofchild labor: Honduras. Obtenido de https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/child_labor_reports/tda2020/Honduras.pdf, consultado el 6 de julio del 2022.
 This article does not claim by any means to offer a complete or representative account of children’s rights in Honduras; in fact, one of the many challenges is the scarcity of up-to-date information on Honduran children, much of which is not reliable, unrepresentative, outdated or simply does not exist.