A country of striking features and a strong indigenous culture, Guatemala's natural beauty and powerful identity stand in stark contrast to its bloody past and troubled present.
Many children in Guatemala have been orphaned by civil war and violence. Children are also abandoned by parents too poor to cope. Some are runaways from physical or sexual abuse within the family.
In Guatemala, the richest 20% of the population own 60% of the overall wealth, leaving the poorest 20% of the population owning just 3%. Children soon fall prey to violence, exploitation and disease. They are rejected by society and known as 'disposable'. They become victims of harassment and violent abuse. Some are shot by police. Guatemalan street children have been known to have been killed in extrajudicial executions. Many children seek to numb the pain and loneliness by turning to solvent abuse. In Guatemala two thirds of children live in poverty (World Fact Book)
Guatemala - Facts and Figures
- Population: 14,099,032 (World Fact Book, 2011)
- Population living below the poverty line: 54% (World Fact Book, 2011)
- Official language: Spanish
- Other languages: over 20 Mayan languages
- Life expectancy: 79 (World Fact Book, 2012)
- Monetary unit: 1 quetzal = 100 centavos
- Main exports: Coffee, sugar, bananas, fruits and vegetables, meat, petroleum, cardamon
- External debt: $3.908 (CIA 2006 estimate)
- Environmental issues: volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, torrential rain, hurricanes. Hurricane Stan in 2005 brought rains, floods and mudslides that affected around 1.5 million people.
- Education: 73% of adults are literate
Watch a BBC report about Guatemala's violent culture
- In the last year (2008-2009) a child was abandoned in Guatemala city every 4 days. Most were babies. (Joint Council on International Children's Services, Feb 2009)
- More than 10 children die every week as a result of violence, 52% of these from gunshot wounds. (Office of Human Rights of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, Oct 2009)
- 40% of Guatemala's street children are from other countries (Conociendo).
- 90% of children on Guatemala's streets have been victims of some form of sexual abuse. (Conociendo)
- 90% of street children have had contact with drugs. (Conociendo)
- 29% of children aged five to fourteen are involved in child labour and are being sent out to work in difficult and dangerous conditions. (UN).
- 63% of children complete primary school education - over 95% enrol, but there are high drop-out rates are due to poverty or the fact that these children have to work. (UN)
- 1200 children were orphaned by Hurricane Stan in 2005. ("Guatemala faces child welfare crisis" 2005)
- 80% of gun related deaths are of 15 to 17 year olds. (ODHAG 2005 report)
- 150-200 boys are sent to jail every month (and 50 girls). (ODHAG 2005 report)
- There are up to 200,000 children involved with gangs. (ODHAG 2005 report)
- 408 children were killed in the first 10 months of 2002. This is a 27% increase from 2001. Some were killed in gangs, others by security forces, and others in drive-by shootings.
Guatemala became independent from Spain in 1821. During the 20th century the country experienced guerrilla war that lasted 36 years. During this time the Guatemalan army, backed by the US, battled to eliminate the guerrillas. The war ended in 1996 after the government signed a peace agreement. However, the war left more than 100,000 people dead and created approximately 1 million refugees. Guatemala is also suffering from a long-running territorial dispute with neighbouring Belize, which remains unresolved.