THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF GUATEMALAN CHILDREN
The mortality rate for the vast majority of Guatemala's children is unacceptable. They suffer from malnutrition, family poverty, lack of schooling and school failure, and from the abusive forms of child labor discussed in the chapter on socio-economic rights. Presented here are some of the Government's plans for correcting these problems. However laudable their goals, these plans will only slightly reduce the severity of these problems in the foreseeable future.
The Commission has received abundant documentation and complaints of numerous situations that concern the rights to life, to liberty, to humane treatment and to the judicial guarantees of many Guatemalan children. When these situations are coupled with the conditions mentioned above, generations of children are being raised in poverty, frustration and fear.
Several chapters of this report have examined the predicament of refugee and displaced families and isolated communities that live in poverty and are attacked by state agents, all of which adversely affects the physical, mental and moral integrity of thousands of children, most of them Guatemalan Maya-Quiché.
Other more specific cases reported to the Commission contend that authorities are insensitive to problems that jeopardize the lives of children. In November 1992, 12 farm children from Cajola died from malnutrition; for some months these children had camped out alongside an urban highway demanding the return of lands that they alleged were their property and from which they were removed. The peasants had requested material assistance from the Government with no results.
1. Government Programs
Concerning these problems, the Government has supplied the Commission with documents on its programs to assist children, particularly those who have been victims of the violence.
In September 1991, President Serrano announced that one of his priority Government programs would be community homes, where especially trained members of the community could care for and educate poor children up to the age of 6, and where each "care mother" would receive from the state Q. 15 per child and from the community Q. 20. He said that his goal was to have 50,000 children in household care by the year 1996; this would be 3.5% of the children living in poverty.
In his address at the end of the second year of his administration in January 1993, President Serrano said that in a year and a half the program had managed to place 1,735 children in homes, which would be one out of every 1000 poor children.
In that same speech he mentioned that four centers had been established to help care for children: one to place and diagnose delinquent children, one to observe street children, one to treat and care for boys and another for girls.
Where education was concerned, he reported that over 1,500,000 children were receiving the "school snack" and little bags of school supplies; in cities, students could use public transportation free of charge to go to school.
In its 1991 plan for the victims of the violence, the Serrano Administration estimated that there were 25,000 widows and 120,000 orphans of the violence in 14 departments of Guatemala, and one of its priorities was to address their needs by instituting programs to facilitate their assimilation into society and help them grow. The programs would make optimum use of local resources to reduce their cost and mobilize the community in the process. Information from September 1992 indicates that the projects are assisting 894 women in this group and their children.
2. Mistreatment of street children and youth
The Commission has received documents on numerous cases of mistreatment, kidnapping and injuries caused to children and young people by the police, either because they suspect them of petty theft or because they are found in possession of sniffing glue or simply because they are in public places and are regarded as suspicious. Cases that have been documented for the authorities indicate that police punish young people on the slightest provocation; even when the necessary police and court complaints are filed, it is very unlikely that any proceedings will be instituted and those responsible will almost never be punished.
For their part, the Military Police conduct unlawful round-ups of youths. The minors are unlawfully handcuffed and taken to police stations where they are held in custody until their status is decided. In one such case, on March 6, 1992, 35 military police detained 16 young men at an intersection; of these, 9 were minors between the ages of 13 and 17. By year's end, the complaint filed by the aggrieved parties had not been settled by the courts.
The police seem to harbor particular hostility toward children and educators associated with "Casa Alianza", an important association that provides education, care and a home to "street children" through various shelter homes in Guatemala City. In 1992 alone, more than twenty cases of harassment were reported against them, in the form of telephone threats, reports that bombs were about to explode, personal attacks on the teachers, guardians at the shelters and the attorneys with the Legal Aid Office, false legal inquiries in an effort to review the Association's computer files, following the teachers and social workers, attacks by firing shots in the air, and other similar forms of harassment. In some cases, the threats are made by police agents, judges, or civilians in unmarked cars. It is clear that the attacks against Casa Alianza and its collaborators are because of its work to protect street children and because it has been very active in filing complaints that have led to the conviction of several state agents for mistreatment of children, convictions gotten under this Administration. In November 1991, Casa Alianza signed a cooperation agreement with the Public Prosecutor's Office, whereby eight of Casa's collaborators were appointed as aides of the Public Prosecutor's Office, with the authority to enter, at any time, any place where children are being held in custody.
One of the most publicized cases in which Casa Alianza got a conviction for attacks against children, was the case of Nahamán Carmona Lopez, who died after being attacked by four policemen on March 4, 1990. After several court rulings, on July 22, 1992, the Court of Appeals upheld the convictions, reducing the sentence to 12 years imprisonment. Several witnesses to the crime are still being threatened: two of them, Vilma Arevalo Deras and Manuel Alcides Martinez, had to leave the country because of the threats; another witness, a nurse with Casa Alianza, was threatened, kidnapped and raped.
In March 1992, a member of a security agency which the Commission has been informed had ties to military intelligence, was convicted to ten years in prison in the death of a child by the name of Francisco Chacon Torres on April 28, 1991.
In other cases, such as the case involving the two policemen accused in the death of a young man by the name of Anstraum Villagran Morales (age 17) and the case of two military policemen charged with the murder of Walter Chapeton and Manuel Castellanos, the accused were acquitted in spite of the abundant evidence against them.
The Government reported that COPREDEH is coordinating the execution of a project on the national level entitled "Strategic Plan to Resolve the Problems of the Children of the Street." With the support of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH) and with inter-institutional participation it hopes to begin to introduce it in the first half of 1993.
The Procurator for Human Rights, with the backing of the Defender of the Rights of the Child, created the Commission on the Prevention of Abuse of Children and the Commission of Pursuit of the Fulfillment of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
The situation of most Guatemalan children is so serious that profound and massive measures are needed to ensure their human rights, for the sake of their physical safety, their legal guarantees, their education, family, nutrition and physical, mental and moral growth.
The programs spelled out in the 1992-1996 Plan are a step in the right direction, but the goals and accomplishments announced thus show that these solutions are far too modest for the enormity of the problems.
The solutions being suggested seem even more inadequate when one considers the enormity of the acts attributable to State agents, which demonstrate how many are utterly uncommitted to a policy of respecting children and minors and to their growth and development in freedom and responsibility. The weak response of the Judiciary to the constant complaints of attacks on minors or institutions that try to preserve their lives, safety and rights, is another factor contributing to this situation.
 The Program for Assistance to Widows and Orphans,
published in September 1992, states that there are 40,000 widows and 150,000
orphans from the violence. SEGEPLAN's 1992-1996 Program of Action states that
there are 50,000 widows from the violence. The discrepancy in the figures, all
from official sources, merely illustrates how difficult it is to get an objective
analysis of the social consequences of the internal conflict.