ON THE SITUATION OF
THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
1. It is only since the signing of the peace that the youth of the country have been able to escape from the constant shadow of the armed conflict -- a conflict which took many children as its victims, and caused many of those who survived great hardship, suffering and grief. Peace is an essential precondition for the children of Guatemala to be able to exercise their basic right to develop and realize their full potential.
2. It is estimated that over half of the Guatemalan population is under 18 years of age, and that the majority of the country’s youth pertains to one of its indigenous peoples. The young represent both a majority of Guatemalan society and its hope to construct the ”system of personal liberty and social justice based on respect for the essential rights” of every person set as the objective of the American Convention. The peace accords must serve as a commitment to the children of the country to redouble efforts to resolve the causes that provoked the conflict and the problems it created, in order to ensure a peace that is truly firm and lasting.
3. The present chapter focuses on a question that is central to the situation of Guatemalan children: the lack adequate legal and institutional measures for their protection. In the first place, as is widely acknowledged, the legal framework currently in effect with respect to minors is markedly deficient in multiple ways. While a new Code of Childhood and Youth was in fact approved by the Congress in 1996, and published, its entry into force has been repeatedly and indefinitely suspended. The inadequacies of the current normative structure further erode the weak institutional mechanisms that exist.
4. In the second place, the deficiencies that characterize the administration of justice as a general matter signify that the rights of children are vulnerable to abuse which is not met with proper investigation, prosecution and punishment. In addition to the impunity that exists with respect to violations against children, minors who are subjected to the judicial system for reasons of neglect, abuse or delinquency are not accorded the measures of protection necessary to safeguard their rights. The Ombudsman for Human Rights has cautioned that:
[T]he Judicial System in effect for minors has to date been constituted as an arm of the State that violates the human rights of the boys, girls and youths that come before it – both as victims and as transgressors. The Judicial System defends its action under an obsolete law, drafted along the lines of the doctrine of the irregular situation, thereby contradicting the principles of integral protection contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A. Legal Framework
5. Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution affirm that the State is organized to protect the person and the family, and shall guarantee the right to “life, liberty, justice, security, peace and the integral development of the person.” In the penal sphere, Article 20 establishes that minors who transgress the law cannot be punished. “Their treatment must be oriented toward comprehensive education for children and youth.” Further, they must be dealt with by specialized institutions and personnel, and may not be detained in facilities used to detain adults. Title II, chapter II provides in its first section for measures of protection for the family. Article 47, for example, provides for the social, economic and juridical protection of the family. Article 50 establishes that all children are equal before the law, and Article 51 establishes that the State shall protect the “physical, mental and moral health” of children. The fourth section of the chapter provides for the right to education, and specifically sets forth that primary education is compulsory and free of charge. In relation to the labor sphere, Article 102(l) provides that “minors of 14 years may not work, save for the exceptions provided by law.” “It is prohibited to have minors perform work incompatible with their physical capacity, or which places their moral development at risk.”
6. The legal regime applicable to minors, defined as all persons under the age of 18, is set forth in the Code of Minors of 1979. As noted above, that Code was to have been replaced in 1996, but the entry into force of the new Code has been indefinitely suspended. One of the reasons the new Code was promulgated was the need to bring Guatemalan law into conformity with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Guatemala ratified in May of 1990. In reviewing Guatemala’s first report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, just prior to the signing of the peace, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed strong concern that the Code in effect contains provisions incompatible with the treaty, and further, does not reflect all the rights recognized therein.
7. The Code in force has been characterized as contravening not only the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but also the Constitution, including insofar as the latter provides for the primacy of international human rights treaties in effect in Guatemala over other internal law. Among the aspects identified as most problematic are, inter alia: that it is based on the anachronistic doctrine of the “irregular situation,” which characterizes the child as a passive, incompetent subject, as opposed to the doctrine of “integral protection” upon which the Convention on the Rights of the Child is based; the fact that judges are authorized to both investigate and sentence in cases concerning minors; the absence of any provision requiring legal counsel or interpretation in proceedings against minors; and the mixing of measures applicable to children who are victims with those applicable to those who have transgressed the law.
8. In its observations to the draft report, the State emphasized that it shares the Commission’s judgment that the existing Code “contains norms that contravene the most recent dispositions accepted and ratified by the State in this area at the international level,” and considers that the efforts underway toward the adoption of a new code “represent a significant attempt to bring domestic law into conformity with new trends” in applicable international law. It also mentioned, in relation to measures adopted to accelerate the processing of charges filed against minors, that various institutions are charged with this objective, for example, the Courts for Minors and the Office of the Prosecutor for Minors. The Office of the Ombudsman for Minors of the Attorney General’s Office provides follow-up in cases of human rights violations in which minors are indicated to be victims. In the sphere of public policy, the State reported that Commissions on Childhood and Adolescence were about to be established within the Development Councils that function at the municipal, departmental and regional levels. This development represents an interesting opportunity to incorporate the principle of integral protection of the child in public policy at the local level, and the Commission looks forward to receiving more specific information about the mandate and guidelines that will define the work of these Commissions.
9. The peace accords reflect some positive commitments in favor of the protection of the rights of the child, the full implementation of which would bring about important advances. Most especially, the Agreement on Social and Economic Aspects sets forth the State’s undertaking to expand the coverage of education, and to ensure that all children between 7 and 12 years of age have access to at least three years of schooling by 2000. In relation to this Agreement, as well as that concerning Indigenous Rights and Identity, a special emphasis is placed on the need to provide bilingual education in rural communities. With respect to health, the State committed itself to cut the maternal and infant mortality rates in half by 2000. In the sphere of labor, the State undertook to promote protective labor legislation, and to improve labor inspection services, paying particular attention to vulnerable workers, such as children. While there have been improvements in some areas, for example nascent efforts with respect to bilingual education and partial labor legislation reform, these basic goals have not yet been met.
Article 19 of the American Convention provides that, "[e]very minor
child has the right to the measures of protection required by his condition as a
minor on the part of his family, society and the state." Accordingly, in addition to the measures a State Party must
adopt pursuant to Articles 1 and 2 of the American Convention to ensure that all
persons subject to its jurisdiction, adults and children alike, may exercise
their protected rights, the implementation of Article 19 requires the adoption
of specific measures aimed at the protection of children.
Pursuant to Article 27 of the Convention, this duty of special protection
may not be suspended under any circumstance.
In view of children’s special vulnerability by reason of their status
and inability to secure the protection of their own rights, the American
Convention further includes express provisions for their protection in
connection with specific rights as well, for example, in Articles 4(5), 5(5) and
17(4) and 18.
11. The Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“Protocol of San Salvador), to which Guatemala became a Party on October 5, 2000, provides a number of measures that have special importance with respect to the rights of children, particularly as related to issues of education and work. Article 13 recognizes the right of every person to education, and most especially to primary education that is compulsory and accessible to all without cost. Article 7 provides for the right to just, equitable and satisfactory conditions of work, and with respect to minors, requires Parties to prohibit work that jeopardizes their health, safety or morals, and to ensure that work is subordinated to the provisions concerning compulsory education.
12. As noted, Guatemala has been a Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1990, having been the sixth State to ratify that treaty. Together, Article 19 of the American Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child form part of a comprehensive international corpus juris for the protection of the child, and the specific terms of the latter help inform the interpretation of the former. Pursuant to Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Parties undertake to observe the comprehensive set of rights recognized therein with respect to each child subject to their jurisdiction without distinction as to the status, activities, opinions or beliefs of the child, his parents, or his legal guardians. States Parties must also protect these persons against discrimination or punishment based on such grounds. Article 3 defines the overarching principle of the Convention that, in all actions concerning children, “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” In complementarity with the rights and duties of the parents or legal guardians, the State is responsible for ensuring the child the protection and care necessary for his or her well-being, through the adoption of the legislative, administrative and other measures necessary to implement the undertakings of the Convention. On September 7, 2000, the State signed the facultative protocols to this Convention, and these were placed under consideration for subsequent approval by the legislature. The Commission values this step and encourages the prompt ratification of these instruments in order to further fortify the existing legal framework.
13. Guatemala is also Party to a series of conventions of the International Labor Organization concerning work and minors, the most relevant of which is Convention 138, which defines minimum ages for basic categories of employment. The objective of this Convention is to ensure that work is subordinated to the completion of primary education, and to prevent children from being exposed to dangerous working conditions.
Children and Economic and Social Rights
Children and Poverty
14. In most cases, to be young in Guatemala means to be poor; reports indicate that 83% of Guatemala’s youth grows up in poverty. Children are affected by this poverty from the time of their birth. The rate of deaths to live births is 52 to 1000, the highest in Central America, principally due to lack of prenatal attention for the mother and/or care during the birth. UNICEF reports that, for the period 1990-1999, 34% of births were attended by a medical professional or midwife. This represented only a 1% improvement from the period 1983-1990. The incidence of low birth weight was reported as 15% for the period 1990-97, having worsened 1% since the figure reported for 1990.
15. The indices for infant mortality and under-5 mortality have experienced important improvements, but remain over the average for the reporting region of Latin America and the Caribbean. The rate of infant mortality decreased from the 1990 rate of 54 per 1000 to 41 per 1000 as of 1998. The regional averages were 51 and 32 for the same periods. The rate of under-5 mortality per 1000 live births dropped from 94 in 1990 to 52 in 1998. The regional averages were 69 and 39 for the respective periods. These improvements show progress, and the potential for realizing necessary additional gains.
16. During the very first years of life, malnutrition is one of the principal causes of death. The Human Rights Office of the Archbishop reported that the situation of chronic malnutrition in Guatemala that affects 46% of children between birth and five years of age is the worst in Latin America. On the positive side, Guatemala is above the regional average for Vitamin A supplementation coverage, at 57%, compared to 52% regionally. Such supplementation is an inexpensive way to prevent some basic health problems; the goal for Guatemala and the region for 2000 is 100% coverage.
The right of the child to special measures of protection requires that
the State take measures to prevent minors from being subjected to violations of
their rights, and to respond with due diligence to any violations that take
place notwithstanding those efforts. The
duty of prevention extends to rights of both a civil and political, and an
economic, social and cultural nature, as required.
Problems with the system for providing personal documentation --
necessary to obtain many basic services -- continue to affect significant
portions of the population.
This is an area in which some important progress has been made,
particularly with respect to returned refugees, and with respect to which
further progress is eminently possible and necessary.
The deficiencies that persist in relation to identification documentation
have a special importance in relation to the question of adoption and
trafficking in children, which is analyzed below.
Article 27(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the
right “to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental,
spiritual, moral and social development.”
While the American Convention and Convention on the Rights of the Child
recognize that primary responsibility necessarily rests with the family, these
instruments provide that children at special risk merit and require measures of
legal protection from the State.
Article 27(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child expressly
provides that States shall “in accordance with national conditions and within
their means  take appropriate measures to assist parents … and shall in case
of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with
regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”
Accordingly, as the Commission has indicated in other contexts, the State
has the obligation, within its means, “to intervene to satisfy the basic needs
of the child, when his family is not in a condition to do so, before the child
is forced to go out into the street because he does not have a roof over his
head or to seek money, through work, theft, or begging in order to feed
The Commission closely monitors the situation of street children in
Guatemala, and is aware that many children have been forced to take to the
streets and to work, not just for their own subsistence, but also to help
support other family members. The
duty of the State to take special measures of protection in this sense signifies
that the question of basic living standards for children must be given priority
in State programs and public spending. The
highly precarious situation of children who are forced to make their lives on
the streets is discussed below.
2. Children, Work and Access to Education
21. While it is difficult to estimate with precision, over 750,000 Guatemalan children work, constituting approximately 17% of the economically active population. This number continues to rise. The issue isn’t whether these children work or not; the necessities of survival require that they do. The issue is whether the conditions under which they work are just, healthy and safe, and whether the necessity of working means they are deprived of other rights, such as access to education.
22. Most child workers are between 10 and 17 years of age, but some begin to work much earlier. They work in the formal and informal sectors, including the agricultural sector, in factories, and in the commercial and service sectors. Three-quarters of child workers work in excess of the legal work-week of 35 hours. On average they receive half the salary paid to an adult, with girls receiving less than boys. Significant numbers of children work in such dangerous places as quarries, cutting rock by hand, and mines, as well as all kinds of factories, including clandestine factories for making gunpowder. They serve as heavy labor, work with heavy machinery, work as roving vendors and shining shoes, work with pesticides and fertilizers, and work as pickers and cutters. Roughly 100,000 girls between 10 and 14 years of age reportedly work as domestics. Many children work in the streets and at night. Some children beg to get by, and some are engaged in such dangerous activities as prostitution, drug trafficking, the running of contraband and robbery.
23. An explosion at one such gunpowder factory in Sacatepéquez in July of 2000, which left two minors dead, highlighted the dangerousness of some of these situations. In the wake of those deaths, the UNICEF representative for Guatemala called for State action with respect to minors doing high-risk work oriented: (1) to facilitate access to school; (2) to promote public policies to aid the poorest families; and, (3) to modify existing legislation to protect minors in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Reports indicate that, after an inspection by the Ministry of Work following the explosion, the factory was closed for failure to offer safe conditions for its workers and for having hired minors, and that the Ministry had committed itself to establishing a system to pay for the school attendance of children working in such factories so as to encourage them to leave that kind of dangerous work. The Commission considers that this would be a very promising measure and looks forward to receiving more information about the scope of the program and the steps taken.
24. The larger problem, however, is the lack of effective legislation, work-place inspections, and sanctions to ensure that minors are not exposed to such dangerous conditions in the first place. ILO Convention 138 provides in Article 9 that Parties shall take “all necessary measures, including the provision of appropriate penalties” to ensure the enforcement of its terms. Labor inspection services are of particular importance in this regard. While the Agreement on Socioeconomic Aspects calls for such services to be strengthened, particularly in relation to vulnerable workers, measures have yet to be taken to ensure that protection.
25. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child indicated several years ago that many Guatemalan children were not attending school precisely because of the demands of having to work to survive. It is estimated that at least 450,000 children between seven and 14 years of age are directly affected in terms of their education, because of absenteeism, dropping out, or being held back in school due to the demands of working. Reports indicate that work constitutes a serious obstacle to obtaining even a primary education. The majority of the population has less than three years of schooling. The last reported figure indicated that only 34% of those who begin primary school reach fifth grade, placing Guatemala dead last in the ranking of countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. As of 1998, it was reported that only 19.5% of children in Guatemala attend secondary school. As indicated in chapter III, supra, rural and primarily indigenous communities are most excluded from access to education. The link between years of schooling and the potential to overcome poverty is well-documented, and makes evident the need to further prioritize advances in primary education.
C. The Effect of the Armed Conflict on Children
26. Within the context of the State’s commitments under the peace accords, it is essential to pay to the extent of the psychological and moral devastation that the conflict caused to the children of Guatemala. The Commission for Historical Clarification concluded that:
A large number of children were  among the direct victims of arbitrary execution, forced disappearance, torture, rape and other violations of their fundamental rights. Moreover, the armed confrontation left a large number of children orphaned and abandoned, especially among the Mayan population, who saw their families destroyed and the possibility of living a normal childhood within the norms of their culture, lost.
27. Accepted figures indicate that the conflict resulted in the displacement of over a million persons, and left 200,000 children orphaned, and 40,000 women widowed. As described in chapter XIV, infra, those who were displaced suffered all the effects of uprooting, with the disruption to family life, and resulting conditions of increased vulnerability in terms of insecurity and marginalization. That chapter also describes the additional stresses of the process of reincorporation. The REMHI project compiles powerful testimonies that document the way in which children were victimized by the conflict, both through their first-hand experience as victims and witnesses, and as indirect victims of violations against parents and other family members. Children were more vulnerable to violations due to their lack of understanding of the risk and mechanics of the violence, and were and remain deeply affected by the deprivation of the security, trust and care required for normal development. The REMHI report emphasizes the importance of clarification so that children can try to understand and attribute meaning to the violations and acts of violence committed.
28. One of the pending issues from the conflict that is just beginning to be explored is the fate of the children who were kidnapped or forcibly disappeared during the conflict. The most comprehensive study on this question, published by the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala in 2000, estimates that over 400 children disappeared during the conflict. In its observations on the draft report, the State characterized that this report of the ODHAG “can be considered serious” and that “the statistics contained therein may be considered accurate.” Other sources suggest that the number could be up to several thousand. The ODHAG report estimates that in approximately 86% of the cases, the children were forcibly disappeared, and in the remaining 14% they disappeared as the result of circumstances of the conflict. It further estimates that in 92% of the total number of cases, responsibility rests with the armed forces. Reports indicate that some children were saved from massacres to be adopted by army officers, or to be taken to their homes to act as servants. For example, one survivor of the massacre of Las Dos Erres, then six years old, was taken by one of the soldiers who participated in the killing of the village and the members of the boy’s family. Another, who was three months old when her family was killed in Las Dos Erres, was taken and adopted by one of the soldiers. Another girl, who was three years old when her family was killed in San Gaspar, Chajul, Quiché in 1982, was taken by soldiers to Guatemala City. There she was abandoned, and an evangelical organization arranged for her adoption abroad. In most cases, the fate of the disappeared is simply not known.
29. One of the crucial recommendations that has arisen as a result of the report of the Commission for Historical Clarification, the REMHI project’s report Nunca Más and the ODHAG’s Hasta Encontrarte is the need to establish a special commission to clarify the fate of disappeared children and adults. President Portillo has declared his willingness to implement this recommendation. The Inter-American Commission considers this an urgent measure, and looks forward to receiving information about the steps taken to move forward with this work. As is clear from the constant jurisprudence of the system, a disappearance constitutes a grave violation of multiple rights, and any State responsibility that attaches continues to apply until the fate of the victim has been clarified, and there is full investigation, prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators, and reparation to the victim or the surviving family members.
D. The Situation of Street Children
One of the most serious situations brought to the Commission’s
attention concerning children in Guatemala is that of street children. Street children are forced by socio-economic circumstances to
live in extremely precarious circumstances, marginalized from society at large,
and deprived of the protections normally available to children.
It is estimated that over 5000 children live on the streets of Guatemala
City, with smaller groups in a number of areas of the country.
Most are between 7 and 14 years of age, and come from the poorest areas
of the capital.
The majority of the children who live on the streets are there because
they have been abused or abandoned by family members.
Reports suggest that the majority of the female street children suffered
sexual abuse by a family member.
Many of these children are forced to beg or steal to support themselves.
Some turn to prostitution or drug trafficking.
Many engage in different forms of substance abuse, including sniffing
glue and abusing other drugs and alcohol. Some
recent reports indicate that these numbers may be on the rise, and that the
severity of their aggressive behavior in response to their circumstance and
substance abuse may also be increasing.
Due to their special vulnerability, and the consistent reports it has
received of serious violations against them, the Commission has been monitoring
the situation of street children in Guatemala with special attention for a
number of years.
The Commission presented the case of Villagrán Morales et al., known as
the “case of the street children” before the Inter-American Court of Human
Rights to address the brutal murder of five street children in Guatemala City in
1990 at the hands of agents of the National Police.
The Commission is currently processing a series of individual cases
concerning alleged violations against minors.
As noted in chapter II, in four of these cases (Juan Humberto Ramos and
Cecilio Jax (case 11.554), Marcos Fidel Quisquinay Concua (12.199), Sergio
Miguel Fuentes Chávez (11.554) and Juan José Méndez Toc (12.020)), the State
acknowledged its responsibility for the facts alleged and compensated the
families of the victims within the framework of the friendly settlement process
provided for in Article 48 of the American Convention.
While the Commission is pleased that the State is pursuing possibilities
to ensure redress in these specific cases, it is deeply troubled by the absence
of a comprehensive plan to deal with this problem that affects thousands of
children. While there are some
nongovernmental and church organizations that provide important services for
street children, the Commission is especially concerned by the lack of services
aimed at getting children off the streets and back on a productive life path.
The Commission is informed that because vagrancy is a crime in Guatemala,
and because there are no alternative services available, poor children may end
up being placed in closed detention facilities simply for having no other place
to go than the streets. Nor, as
noted above, are there sufficient protective services available to prevent
minors from becoming street children. In
its response to the draft report, the State emphasized that, in 2000, the
Secretariat of Social Welfare, with the support and coordination of COPREDEH,
designed and was about to implement the Plan in Favor of Boys, Girls and Youths
of the Street, in accordance with the commitments undertaken in the friendly
settlement of cases before the Commission.
The Commission hopes to receive information on the measures adopted to
finance and implement this Plan as soon as possible.
Street children are extremely vulnerable to acts of abuse and violence by
virtue of their circumstances. It
is important to note that, according to the information before the Commission,
reports of gross violations against street children attributed to members of the
security forces have declined in comparison with prior years.
The Commission continues, however, to receive reports of acts of
intimidation and reprisal against street children, as well as illegal arrest and
detention, and continues to find that these are not met with due investigation,
prosecution or punishment. Moreover, while the figures reported by Casa Alianza for 1998
and 1999 represent a significant decline from previous years, the organization
continued to report on allegations concerning the right to humane treatment,
sexual violence, threats and acts of intimidation, and several cases of murder.
Further, reports continue to allege the involvement of members of the
National Civil Police in violations of the right to life, liberty and physical
security of street children.
In 1996, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed deep
concern with respect to the “persistence of violence against children ….
particularly in view of the ineffectiveness of investigations into crimes
committed against children which paves the way for widespread impunity.”
There has been little improvement in the response of the judiciary in the
interim. As of 2000, Casa Alianza
reported that of the 328 criminal processes it had pending before the courts of
Guatemala, only 15 had progressed.
Almost half of the cases the organization had pursued had been archived,
and most of the rest remained in the initial investigation stage.
This kind of impunity exacerbates and perpetuates the risk of such
violations. “Children and other
vulnerable individuals, in particular, are entitled to State protection, in the
form of effective deterrence, against such serious breaches of physical
In analyzing why most of the cases it pursued between 1994 and 1998
failed to progress, Casa Alianza indicated that over 30% of the time, files were
lost by judicial personnel; 19% of the cases were impeded by negligence and
inertia on the part of judicial personnel; 19% by a lack of sufficient proof; 8%
by the lack of collaboration of the National Police in the investigation; 7% by
influence trafficking; and 5% by virtue of the discrimination to which street
children and related matters are subjected.
During that period, of the 107 cases pursued, eight resulted in
The organization characterized that those cases were successful in part
because they were widely reported and known to the public, and in part because
there was constructive cooperation between the Public Prosecutor, National
Police and the judges. It consequently highlighted these cases as examples of the
results that can be obtained, albeit pursuant to great effort.
E. The Sale and Trafficking of Children
37. In part due to the prolonged armed conflict, which left so many orphans, adoption has become a major issue in Guatemala in recent years. In and of itself, adoption offers the potential for a loving and durable solution to the situation of orphaned or abandoned children. However, as the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography concluded following her mission to Guatemala, what initially started out as efforts to find suitable solutions for these children was converted into a profitable business venture when it became evident that there was a substantial “market” for adoptable babies. She characterized the trafficking of babies and young children as existing on a large scale in Guatemala.
38. “Ninety-five percent of the adoptions of Guatemalan babies are intercountry; it is reported that Guatemala is the fourth largest “exporter” of children in the world.” Reports indicate that over 1500 adoptions were approved in 1999. 73 of these were national adoptions. The rest were intercountry, with over 1000 approved for the United States. While some of these adoptions are doubtless legal, the UN Special Rapporteur concluded that “legal adoption appears to be the exception rather than the rule.” In the majority of cases, she indicated, such international adoptions – which can bring up to $US 15,000 -- give rise to a variety of criminal offenses, including the selling of babies, the falsification of documents and kidnapping. Over the last several years, there have been periodic reports of investigations into networks of baby traffickers. National adoption does not give rise to these problems.
39. As have many other sources, the Special Rapporteur expressed particular concern with respect to the lack of an adequate legal framework to protect the rights of children. She noted the situation with respect to the suspension of the entry into force of the Code of Childhood and Youth as a serious problem, particularly in view of the fact that Guatemala’s adoption laws are among the weakest in the region, and that trafficking of children is not even typified as a crime. She noted with indignation having received reports “that a stiffer penalty is imposed for the theft of a car than for the theft of a child.” She linked the failure of progress in the entry into force of the Code on Childhood and Youth with the pendency of draft legislation on adoption -- which those involved in processing adoptions wanted to block. Further, Guatemala has yet to become party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
40. The Special Rapporteur defined the issue precisely in her report, noting that adoption itself is not problematic; rather, it is the sale of children that would be “inherently abhorrent,” by violating the rights of the child and by treating him or her as an object of commerce. This also often violates the rights of mothers, and sometimes fathers, who are tricked or coerced into giving up their babies against their will, but who for reasons of poverty and marginalization then have little means to seek recourse. During its on-site visit, for example, the Commission received moving testimony from one mother who had been illegally tricked and then forced into giving up her baby against her will. With the help of a nongovernmental organization, she was finally able to recover her baby, but only after great fear and an extended separation.
41. Again, a central aspect of the problem is the lack of adequate legislation. In this regard, the legislation on adoption has been characterized as severely deficient, and the procedures are far from transparent. Further, Guatemala has yet to adopt the necessary legislative and other measures to give full effect to its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the best interests of the child are not taken into account as a primary criterion in decision making. The Convention on the Rights of the Child reflects in Article 9 the principle that the family unit should only be broken in exceptional circumstances, where necessary to safeguard the best interests of the child. It requires in Article 21 that adoptions take place through legal procedures, with due attention to ensuring the informed consent of the parent(s). Article 35 prohibits the sale or trafficking of babies, and Article 36 requires that the State protect children against exploitation harmful to their welfare. These provisions are not adequately reflected in Guatemalan legislation, notwithstanding that the Committee on the Rights of the Child pointed out the insufficiency of the mechanisms to prevent and combat such trafficking in 1996, and notwithstanding the effort to introduce a law on adoptions for that purpose – an effort which has been stalled for the last several years.
42. Concerning this theme, in its response to the draft report the State indicated that it expected the National Plan against Child Prostitution and Exploitation to be completed and its execution initiated by April of 2001. Further, the Presidency of the Republic would in the near future transmit to the Congress draft provisions concerning the ratification of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The Commission looks forward to receiving information on these and other measures aimed at protecting children at risk as soon as possible.
Conclusions and Recommendations
43. The values of a society are profoundly reflected in the way it treats its children. Within the regional human rights system, as within the universal system, the rights of children have been accorded special priority and protection, because the youth of our hemisphere represent our collective possibility to create "a system of personal liberty and social justice based on respect for the essential rights of man." It is for this reason that Article 19 establishes special measures of protection for children corresponding to their vulnerability as minors, and the implementation of this obligation must be accorded special importance.
The Commission shares the reiterated concern articulated by the national
and international community that Guatemala has not implemented the legislative
and other measures necessary to give effect to the fundamental rights of
children under Article 19 of the American Convention and under the Convention on
the Rights of the Child. As noted
above, respect for the rights of the child is a non-derogable obligation that
may not be postponed.
The deficiencies in the legal framework -- especially its anachronistic
dependence on the concept of the “irregular situation” in contravention of
the principle of integral protection which underlies Guatemala’s international
obligations – distorts the way that children are dealt with, both as victims
and as transgressors. One example
of this is the criminalization of vagrancy, the result of which is the
incarceration of children who are found on the streets because they have nowhere
else to live. While a few
nongovernmental organizations offer specialized protective and rehabilitative
services for street children, the State does not.
Consequently, during its visit to Los Gorriones, the Commission found 32
girls between the ages of 12 and 18, some of whom were detained as first-time
offenders, some as multiple offenders, and some by order of a judge as a means
of protection, usually from parental abuse.
These are situations that require different measures aimed at the needs
and best interests of the child.
In accordance with the foregoing findings, the Commission recommends that
Adopt the necessary legislative and other steps necessary to give effect
to its obligation to provide children with the special measures of protection
required under Article 19 of the American Convention, as well as to its specific
obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In particular, the Commission recommends that the State take
urgent action to modify the Code of Minors of 1979 through effectuating the
entry into force, without further delay, of the new Code of Childhood and Youth.
In conjunction with the strengthening of the legal framework, that it
strengthen the capacity of the judiciary to respond to violations of the rights
of children with prompt and effective investigation, prosecution and punishment,
through additional training for personnel assigned to such cases and through the
oversight necessary to ensure that the cases are processed and progress in
accordance with the principles of due process.
Establish a mechanisms for inter-institutional coordination among the
mechanisms of the State directly responsible for implementing and enforcing the
rights of the child and the nongovernmental organizations working in this
Allocate the human and material resources necessary to give priority to
the basic needs and rights of children; in particular, that it develop
additional means to provide social services aimed at ensuring access to
nutrition, clothing and shelter sufficient for their proper development.
Strengthen the regime of labor law to ensure that the illegal hiring of
minors for work which is inconsistent with their age, health and development is
met with effective, severe sanctions that are enforced.
Strengthen the labor inspection regime in place to protect the rights of
vulnerable workers such as children, and to enforce the prohibition of hazardous
and abusive labor conditions.
Redouble efforts to ensure that every child between the ages of 7 and 12
has access to at least 3 years of primary education; and to give further
priority to the development of bilingual education in the appropriate geographic
regions of the country.
Take immediate steps to create a commission to establish the fate of
children and adults who were disappeared during the conflict.
Work with the nongovernmental sector to amplify the services available to
deal with the psychosocial effects of the conflict and all its sequelae in
children, families and communities.
Develop the legal responses and services necessary to respond to the
specific needs of children in situations of neglect and abuse, which are
distinct from those of children at risk for reasons of delinquency.
Amplify the responses that apply in the case of children at risk for
reasons of delinquency so that the best interests of the child and the goals of
rehabilitation and productive reincorporation into society are utilized as
primary considerations in decision-making.
With respect to adoption specifically, that it take the measures
necessary to achieve the entry into force of an adequate legislative framework
so as to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration
in all decisions taken, to assure the free and informed consent of the parent or
parents, and to guarantee legality, clarity and transparency in the applicable
13. Give serious consideration to the ratification of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
14. Take further steps to promote awareness of and respect for the rights of the child among children, parents, teachers and, in particular, State officials with responsibility for designing and implementing policies that affect children and their families.
Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado (ODHA),
Informe 1999: Situación de la niñez en Guatemala (2000), p. 25.
Decree No. 78-96, which contains the new suspended Code recognizes in its
first considerandum that the Code of minors that remains in effect:
ceased to respond to the needs of juridical regulation concerning children
and youth and that a profound transformation of the law is necessary to
offer the various organs of the State and society as a whole a juridical
corpus adequate to guide conduct and actions in favor of this social sector
that is so important, in conformity with the Constitution and international
conventions concerning human rights ratified by Guatemala.
Ombudsman for Human Rights, Informe
Circunstanciado 1999 (2000), p. 166.
See Civil Code of Guatemala, Art. 8 (indicating that the age of
majority is reached at 18 years); see
also UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art. 1 (defining as a
child any person under 18 years of age).
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding
Observations, para. 12.
See Luis Felipe Polo, Mónica Melgar G., Maribel Echeverría, Análisis
Comparativo del Código de Menores con la Convención sobre los Derechos del
Niño y la Constitutión Política de la República de Guatemala (Instituto
de Investigaciones de la Universidad Rafael Landívar, UNICEF 1999).
See MINUGUA, Fifth Report;
Suplemento al cuarto informe sobre la
verificación de los acuerdos de paz de Guatemala, “Síntesis del
estado de cumplimiento de los compromisos calendarizados en el Acuerdo sobre
Cronograma,” pp. 25-34.
See generally, UN H.R.Committee, Mónaco
and Vicario v. Argentina, Comm. No. 400/1990, Decision of 3 April 1995, para.
See generally, IACtHR, Villagrán Morales et al. Case, Judgment of
November 19, 1999, Ser. A No. 63, para. 194, 196.
ODHA, supra, p. 25.
UNICEF, “Estado Mundial de la infancia 2000.”
UNICEF, Regional Office for Latin America and the Carribean, Statistics for
Latin America and the Caribbean, “births attended by trained health
UNICEF, supra, “incidence of low birth weight.”
UNICEF, supra, “infant mortality rate per 1000 live births.” The goal
set for Guatemala in 2000 is 18. Id.
UNICEF, supra, “under 5 mortaility rate per 1000 live births.” The goal
set for Guatemala in 2000 is 31.
Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado, supra,
See UN Human Rights Committee, General
Comment 17, para. 3,
reprinted in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations
adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, HRI/GEN/1/Rev.3, 15 Aug. 1997.
See chapters X and XIV, concerning political rights and the rights
of those uprooted during the conflict, respectively.
Marc Bossuyt, Guide to the Travaux Préparatoires
of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, p. 459.
Third Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia, para. 26.
Larra, “UNICEF en contra del trabajo infantil,” Prensa
Libre, 1 May 1999.
See PNUD, La Fuerza Incluyente
del Desarrollo Humano (2000), p. 138, table 5.16.
ODHA, supra p. 96.
Myriam Larra, supra.
ODHA, p. 97.
Id., p. 25.
See generally, id., pp. 96-97.
“UNICEF exige erradicar utilización de niños en trabajos de alto riesgo,”
La Hora, 14 July 2000.
See note 7, supra.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, para. 23.
See, for example, PNUD, supra,
UNICEF, “Percent reaching Grade 5” (reporting figures for 1996).
chapter III, table 2, supra.
Commission for Historical Clarification, Guatemala:
Memory of Silence, para. 28.
See.e.g., id., para. 2.
REMHI, Nunca Más.
ODHAG, Hasta Encontrarte: Niñez
Desaparecida por el Conflicto Armado Interno en Guatemala (2000).
Id., p. 35.
Id., p. 50.
Olga López Ovando, “Hablan niños de la guerra,” Prensa
Libre, 23 Aug. 2000.
See generally, María Ester Caballero, La paz no les ha llegado: Niños y niñas de la calle en Centroamérica
(Casa Alianza 2000), pp. 37-52.
IACHR, Fourth Report on the
Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, supra, at 96.
Casa Alianza reported dealing with 38 human rights violations against street
children in 1998 and 32 in 1999, in contrast to 55 in 1996 and 59 in 1997. Caballero, supra,
See World Organization against Torture, Cases GTM 250599; 190399;
080299; 160399; and 150299, all from 1999.
“Concluding observations of the Committee: Guatemala,” CRC/C/15/Add.58,
7 June 1996, at para. 20.
Casa Alianza, “Street Children in Guatemala City,” at web site
Caballero, supra, p. 47.
Eur.Ct.H.R., A v. United Kingdom,
Judgment of 23 Sept. 1998, 27 EHRR 611, para. 22. This principle of effective protection of the rights of
children through deterrence has been affirmed in other contexts, see Stubbings et al. v. United Kingdom, Judgment of 22 Oct. 1996, 23
Casa Alianza, Violación a los
derechos humanos de los niños y niñas de la calle (1999), pp. 35-52
(providing specific analysis and case examples).
Id., p. 53.
Id., pp. 53-64.
Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child
prostitution and child pornography, Ms. Ofelia Calcetas-Santos on the
mission to Guatemala, para. 11.
Id. para. 90.
Id., para. 12.
Casa Alianza, Informe sobre adopciones
ilegales en Guatemala (2000), Annex 6 – citing statistics of the
Attorney General’s Office.
Special Rapporteur, para. 13. In
her report, the Special Rapporteur details some of the methodologies in use. See also, Casa
Alianza, Informe sobre adopciones
ilegales en Guatemala, pp. 12-23.
See, e.g., “MP investiga a red de robaniños,” Prensa Libre, 4 April 2000.
Special Rapporteur, para. 90.
Id., para. 19.
Id., para. 30.
Id., para. 96.