The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), humans rights organisations, and members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations took part in a panel discussion last month (May 27) to discuss the issue of children and violence in Guatemala.
The discussion was based on the findings of ‘Violence, Children and Organised Crime,’ a report released by the IACHR and Plan International in December 2015, and presented at the panel by the Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child of the IACHR, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño.
The report identified the principal causes of violence in the Americas, which has the highest rates of violence in the world, and examined how various forms of violence impact children and adolescents in the region. It highlighted the fact that insecurity and violence are largely associated with adolescents, who are often blamed for “the climate of insecurity experienced by many communities”. Male adolescents from poor, marginalized neighborhoods are especially at risk of being stigmatised, excluded, discriminated against and blamed for violence and insecurity in their communities.
The IACHR states, however, in its report, “that the reality is different from these perceptions and much more complex” and that indeed children and adolescents in the region “represent one of the groups most affected by different forms of violence and rights violations, as well as by the actions of criminal groups and by repressive citizen security policies”.
One of the report’s conclusions was that governments, for the most part, are failing to protect the“children most affected by these conditions” and are unable “to guarantee their rights, and prevent their recruitment and use by organised crime groups”.
Other speakers at panel included the head of CICIG, Iván Velásquez Gómez, Deputy Prosecutor for Human Rights, Hilda Morales, and Verónica Simán from the United Nations (UN).
According to a CICIG press statement, Velásquez Gómez stressed in his speech that in Guatemala “there are no real integration policies for children and young people, whom organized criminals use to commit their crimes”.
In terms of how Guatemala deals with children and adolescents accused of crimes, many of whom are victims of violence themselves, the head of CICIG made reference to a recent case where a four-year-old child was called to appear before a judge. As reported by Prensa Libre, Guatemala’s Public Ministry processed a complaint made by the parents of one of the child’s classmates. The young boy has been accused of injuring the left thumbnail of a female classmate.
The CICIG head questioned, “if this is the attitude towards children, what is the attitude towards youth? What is the attitude towards men and women subjected to criminal proceedings?”
Velásquez Gómez said there must be a change in attitude towards children who may make mistakes and that this case, along with the report, shows that in situations like this a child should receive attention “if it is determined that the child is extremely violent and a danger to society,” but in “no case should it lead to the judicial authorities of the country”.
In its report, the IACHR concluded that while measures, which are in keeping with international human rights standards, can be taken to hold children and adolescents accountable for their actions if they commit a crime, they “must be appropriate and meet the objectives of rehabilitation and social reintegration”.