GENEVA (17 January 2018) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth to sixth periodic report of Guatemala under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Jorge Luis Borrayo Reyes, President of the Presidential Human Rights Policy Coordination Commission of Guatemala, stated that the Government sought to ensure that all its administrative, legislative and judicial actions respected the principle of the best interest of the child. The Government sought to guarantee that children and adolescents were in a position to express their views and to be heard in any administrative and judicial processes. There had been an increase of 29 per cent in the funding for child-related programmes between 2012 and 2017. As for inter-agency cooperation in order to ensure respect for children’s rights, the Government had set up a technical juvenile justice committee, as well as the Strategic Inter-institutional Juvenile Justice Plan 2016-2019, which was currently working on a project to deal with adolescents in conflict with the law. In terms of healthcare and social welfare, there was a 17-per cent drop in child mortality between 2010 and 2015. As for education, 4,592 scholarships and 1,898 family subsidies had been granted in 2017. The Government was focused on increasing school enrolment, improving the quality of education, and providing education in various indigenous languages.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts expressed concern about the widespread violence in the country, the poverty rate among indigenous children, and continued recruitment of children by criminal gangs (maras). They inquired about the synchronization of domestic laws with the Convention, dissemination of the Convention, allocation of resources to children’s programmes and assessment of their impact, and the role of civil society in the design of child-related policies. Other issues raised including a comprehensive data collection system on children’s rights and issues, views of the child and the best interest of the child, monitoring of the effects of business activities on children’s rights, discrimination against indigenous children, protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children, the effect of the eviction of indigenous settlements from protected areas, overcrowding of child detention facilities, juvenile justice, corporal punishment, violence against children and harmful practices, cybercrime, birth registration, privacy of children, deinstitutionalization of children with disabilities, street children and trafficking of children, breastfeeding and malnutrition, teenage pregnancies, school enrolment, suicide among children and their mental health, and play and leisure time.
In his concluding remarks, Luis Ernesto Pederna Reyna, Committee Expert and head of the task force on Guatemala, stated that Guatemala was in a positive situation to move forward. He expressed hope that the concluding observations would assist the Government in its human rights programmes and urged the Government to disseminate them as widely as possible.
Mr. Borrayo Reyes thanked the Committee for a very enriching dialogue, adding that many challenges remained to be overcome. Guatemala was more than ready to accept the Committee’s recommendations in order to better protect the human rights of children and adolescents.
Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for a frank and open dialogue, noting that the most important thing was not to put the Committee’s concluding observations somewhere on a shelf and forget about them. It would also be very helpful to translate them into local languages.
The delegation of Guatemala included representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Supreme Court, and the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today when it will start its review of the fifth and sixth periodic report of Panama (CRC/C/PAN/5-6).
The Committee is considering the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Guatemala (CRC/C/GTM/5-6).
Presentation of the Report
JORGE LUIS BORRAYO REYES, President of the Presidential Human Rights Policy Coordination Commission of Guatemala, stated that the Government sought to ensure that all its administrative, legislative and judicial actions respected the principle of the best interest of the child. The Government sought to guarantee that children and adolescents were in a position to express their views and to be heard in any administrative and judicial processes. To that end the authorities had passed the Law on Genetic Database and Forensic Use, the Registry of Sex Offenders, and the Law on Nutrition in Schools. Guatemala had reformed the Civil Code in order to prohibit the marriage of persons below the age of 18, and it had adopted the Migration Code in May 2017 to deal with migrant and non-accompanied children and adolescents. In terms of children-related policies and plans, the Government had been implementing the Public Policy on Integral Development and Early Childhood 2010-2020, and the National Plan for Children and Adolescents 2017-2020. There were three instruments to implement special protection measures: the National Policy on Prevention, Security of Citizens and Peaceful Coexistence 2014-2034, the Democratic Criminal Policy 2015-2035, and the National Strategy for the Prevention of Violence.
As for inter-agency cooperation in order to ensure respect for children’s rights, the Government had set up a technical juvenile justice committee, as well as the Strategic Inter-institutional Juvenile Justice Plan 2016-2019, which was currently working on a project to deal with adolescents in conflict with the law. There had been an increase of 29 per cent in the funding for child-related programmes between 2012 and 2017. To ensure the principle of equality and protection of civil liberties, the Government had launched the Public Policy on Coexistence and Elimination of Racism and Racial Discrimination in May 2014. It was currently implementing a campaign “Protecting our Treasure” to eliminate the exploitation of children in sex tourism, as well as a campaign on protection online. In line with its Constitution, Guatemala had various protection modalities for the protection of the family and to ensure the wellbeing and comprehensive development of children. In terms of healthcare and social welfare, there was a 17-per cent drop in child mortality between 2010 and 2015.
As for education, 4,592 scholarships and 1,898 family subsidies had been granted in 2017. The Government was focused on increasing school enrolment, improving the quality of education, and providing education in various indigenous languages. As of 2018, the Government had been implementing the Alternative National Education Programme – PRONEA – which offered educational services to persons who had to abandon their studies at an early age due to socio-economic reasons. The rate of completion of primary education had increased from 60 to 78 per cent in 2016 and 2017. Since 2015, Guatemala has been pursuing a process of de-institutionalization of children, whereas in 2018 it would start a programme of alternative measures to sentencing of adolescents in conflict with the law. Mr. Borrayo Reyes stressed that the Government of Guatemala regretted the fire at the children’s home Hogar Virgen de la Asunción and believed that it should never again occur.
Questions by the Committee Experts
AMAL SALMAN ALDOSERI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Guatemala, welcomed the progress made by Guatemala in the area of children’s rights. She inquired about coordination mechanisms of the Social Welfare Secretariat and the National Commission on Children and Adolescents, namely about sufficient resources and personnel. How far had the Government come in synchronizing domestic laws with the Convention? What was the impact of the law on family planning services?
The Plan of Action for Children and Adolescents had expired in 2015. Had the reformulated version of the new plan been adopted? What were its components and the allocation of resources? What system had been developed to track the allocation of resources to children’s programmes and to assess their impact? How did the Government ensure that services for children were not the first ones to suffer the consequences of austerity measures?
Had there been any progress on the development of a comprehensive data collection system on children’s rights and issues? Was there an established plan for the dissemination of the Convention and relevant awareness raising? What role did civil society play in the development of policies and Government services aimed at children?
What agency was mandated with the monitoring of the effects of business activities on children’s rights? What kind of violations had been reported, and what types of sanctions and reparations had been decided? What was the reaction of the Government to reports on the impact of mining waste on children’s health?
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Guatemala, highlighted the great economic disparities in Guatemala and the discrimination against indigenous peoples, who made up about 45 per cent of the population. Some 88 per cent of them were poor. Indigenous girls faced multiple forms of discrimination. What would the Government do about the lack of funding and political will to remedy that problem?
What was being done to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children? What were the reasons for children feeling discriminated against just because they were children? Evictions of indigenous settlements without planned relocation negatively affected children. What was being done to educate judges about the principle of the best interest of the child?
Ms. Sandberg pointed out to the lack of adequate resources and training of the staff working with institutionalized children. What kinds of improvements would be undertaken in institutions? In addition, children found that they were not seriously heard and consulted. Were children heard in civil cases?
Conditions of detention of children were inhumane and children did not feel safe due to widespread violence in the country. There were youth gangs and bullying was common in schools. There was also sexual violence and abuse in families. What were the root causes of violence against children and how could they be tackled? Were channels of reporting sexual abuse child-friendly? Was corporal punishment forbidden in all settings?
Turning to harmful practices, Ms. Sandberg welcomed the banning of marriage for children under the age of 18. There was a lack of resources for the reintegration of child victims. Were there any plans to establish a national toll-free helpline for child victims?
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for Guatemala, raised the issue of birth registration and the lack of relevant awareness raising. There was discrimination of indigenous women in rural areas in that respect. Two thirds of women gave birth outside hospital. There was also a problem of civil registrars in remote communities, which meant that many families were not able to pay to come to municipalities to record the birth.
What measures had been undertaken to protect privacy for children? What was being done to control cybercrime and prevent online harassment of children? What was the positive role of the media in promoting children’s rights?
Replies by the Delegation
JORGE LUIS BORRAYO REYES, President of the Presidential Human Rights Policy Coordination Commission of Guatemala, recognized that the problem of children suffering from evictions in protected environmental areas of Guatemala was a serious one. The Government cared for children and adolescents who had not been granted protection. The concerned individuals would soon be settled in a definitive fashion.
Mr. Borrayo Reyes explained that Guatemala was planning to have a special data collection point for children-related cases. However, its implementation was very expensive and thus slow. There were various mechanisms for the dissemination of international treaties on human rights, including the Convention, such as training of teachers for the promotion of human rights in schools. The national civil police, members of the army and other public officials had received relevant training. Mr. Borrayo Reyes added that children’s views had been incorporated in Guatemala’s periodic report.
The delegation explained that civil society played an important role in the design of child-related policies. The National Commission for Children and Adolescents comprised both Government and civil society sector representatives and it had a rotational presidency. The Commission sought to ensure funding for child-related policies and it closely collaborated with various institutions.
Turning to the problem of widespread violence in the country, the delegation stated that various programmes investigating the root causes of violence had been rolled out. One of them involved public schools and the problem of bullying, whereas another one focused on violence in the most vulnerable neighbourhoods where gangs were active.
A budget increase had been requested for social welfare programmes, but it had not been approved. Nevertheless, there had been a significant increase in human resources in 2017 and efforts had been made to train personnel. The Social Welfare Secretariat looked after four juvenile detention centres and in 2017 it had begun refurbishing them. An awareness raising campaign had been rolled out to avoid social stigmatization of adolescents who had been in conflict with the law. There were 20 specialized juvenile courts across the country.
Turning to violence against children, the delegation explained that several national hotlines for victims were in operation, with panic buttons and a GPS tracking mechanism. There was no special hotline for child victims. The Public Prosecutor’s Office aimed to criminally prosecute all those who had committed violence against children. The most affected children were those aged between 10 and 17. Some 35 per cent of them were victims of sexual crimes. About 4,400 sexual offenders had been convicted between 2015 and 2017. Multidisciplinary teams of experts carried out the investigation of cases and ensured comprehensive care for victims in order to avoid re-victimisation.
With respect to cybercrime, there was a special police unit responsible for verifying complaints related to children’s security online. In May 2016 a special protection unit had been set up to investigate child pornography.
As for discrimination against indigenous peoples, there was a special agreement on the identity of indigenous peoples which paved the way for education reform. Each indigenous group received culturally specific education. Major emphasis was placed on the Mayan culture in all its forms and expressions. Mr. Borrayo Reyes underscored that indigenous peoples were among the most vulnerable groups in the country, which required adopting a number of measures to secure their rights, especially in the interior of the country.
Judges listened to the views of children in civil cases. When children made statements they were accompanied by psychologists, who assessed whether the children were in a position to make statements. Hearings were suspended in case they could not make statements.
Second Round of Questions by the Committee Experts
An Expert inquired about the “My Secure Bond” programme on bolstering the family environment and about the improvement of human and financial resources. What budget was available to keep children outside institutions? What was the number of children in institutions in 2017? What were the causes for their institutionalization? Had the State developed any measures to ensure that children stayed within the family nucleus?
Had there been an independent investigation in the fire at Hogar Virgen de la Asunción and what measures had been adopted to avoid such cases in the future? Was there a plan to close down such institutions? What had the Government done to address the complaints of girls at Hogar Virgen de la Asunción? Were the voices of the affected children heard?
Turning to legislative changes regarding adoption, Experts asked about steps taken to investigate the kidnaping and sale of persons for the purpose of adoption. As for children imprisoned with their mothers, what was the number of affected children? Many of such children ended up in institutional care.
The problem of street children was invisible in Guatemala. Was there any estimate of their number? As for trafficking of children, what type of measures had been developed to tackle the issue?
What steps had been taken to decentralize the system of alternative sentencing of juvenile offenders? What was being done to prevent mixing of sentenced juvenile offenders and those in pre-trial detention, and to avoid detention overcrowding?
What was being done to address the instability in inter-institutional coordination on child-related issues? What was the scope of the organized crime (maras) in the country and its impact on children? How were child gang members reintegrated in the society?
AMAL SALMAN ALDOSERI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Guatemala, inquired about the number of children with disabilities in institutional care and about measures to prevent their institutionalization. What community-based alternatives had been created to guarantee the enjoyment of their rights? How many of the girls that had lost their lives at Hogar Virgen de la Asunción were with disabilities?
Ms. Aldoseri recognized the adoption of the Food and Nutrition Strategic Plan. What concrete measures had been implemented to promote breastfeeding and to combat the high rate of stunting? How did the Government plan to increase baby-friendly facilities? Ms. Aldoseri also highlighted the high rate of malnutrition and death of indigenous children.
What policies had the Government adopted to increase the school enrolment of children in primary and secondary schools, particularly in marginalized areas? Had there been any studies on the school dropout rate?
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Guatemala, pointed to the high rate of teenage pregnancies. Were adolescents involved in the development of school curricula on sexual and reproductive health? There was information that suicide was prevalent among young people. What kind of psycho-social support was available to children? Were there any plans to raise the number of psychologists in the country?
What did children learn about disaster preparedness and environmental degradation? Were they involved in the Government’s policy-making in that respect?
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for Guatemala, wondered why despite the adopted programmes and legislation, the gap in wealth between rural and urban areas in the country had not decreased. She regretted the poverty of indigenous peoples and their systematic discrimination which continued with impunity. She also expressed concern about the continued recruitment of adolescents by criminal gangs, and about the fact that too many indigenous girls were mothers. What measures had been taken to address that situation?
Ms. Winter also asked about the existing mechanisms to help child victims or witnesses of crimes?
An Expert observed that it seemed that children were institutionalized even when they had a family and asked for an explanation. Other Experts recommended that the authorities invest in researching alternative solutions to institutionalization, especially of children with disabilities, and inquired about the functioning of the system of foster families in the country.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation emphasized that the situation in the country was still complicated and marked by the after-effects of the armed conflict which had plagued the country for more than 20 years. The conflict had restructured families which continued to send their children to the United States.
In order to avoid tragedies such as the fire at the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción, the Government had begun a revision of such residences and the policy of institutionalization, and it had enhanced the budget for the protection of youth, prioritizing the training of social workers. The Government had created a service in charge of psycho-social support for children who were not institutionalized, and in cooperation with the Ministry of Education it had brought them back to school. The survivors from the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción had been returned to extended families and received subventions.
The investigation of the fire at the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción, which accommodated some 700 children and adolescents, was rapid. An arrest warrant was issued for management officials of the institution for the charges of manslaughter, abuse of power and mistreatment of minors. In October 2017, the Public Prosecutor’s office provided psychological support to the victims and a multidisciplinary team was formed to set up a protection programme for them and reunification with their families. The Prosecutor’s Office had also launched an investigation into potential cases of sexual abuse of children. As for the existence of organized networks sexually exploiting children at the home, there was no evidence of that so far.
Responding to the question about children with disabilities being returned to their families and about avoiding their institutionalization, the delegation clarified that children with disabilities from the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción had a protection plan and received social welfare assistance. In 2016 an agreement had been signed to reduce institutionalization, adopting a rights-based and psychosocial approach. There was a drop of institutionalization from five to two per cent. Many children were placed in extended families. More than 80 per cent of the children had been de-institutionalized, while the rest remained institutionalized due to the lack of alternatives. The Government had an agreement with three non-governmental organizations to train families and prepare them to receive children with disabilities. The delegation asked the Committee for technical assistance in the pursuit of its de-institutionalization process.
With respect to migrant children, the Government had been working to provide psycho-social and pedagogical support to them, such as giving them technical scholarships, entrepreneurial training and distance-learning programmes.
Turning to the issue of privacy and confidentiality of children in conflict with the law, the delegation said that when children were apprehended, lawyers ensured that they were not exposed to the media and that images were not disseminated with respect to their private lives and families. Since 2015 the Government had been working on a programme for children of parents deprived of their liberty, namely with four detention facilities in order to improve the system of visits to parents by children. The authorities were thinking of creating a non-penitentiary facility for that purpose. Some 55,000 children in Guatemala had a family member in prison.
A programme was in place to prevent children from joining criminal gangs, and to improve the communication within families and communities. Police staff acted as instructors across the country. Over the past seven years, the authorities had been able to reduce violence rates. The delegation clarified that the recruitment of minors up to the age of 18 by the official armed forces or by non-State armed groups was explicitly criminalized by the law.
As for nutrition and breastfeeding, the delegation noted that reducing the prevalence of chronic malnutrition was a priority for the Government, which aimed to establish good nutrition practices and to treat acute malnutrition. The authorities had managed to reduce malnutrition by 8.3 per cent. In 2008, 550 persons had died of malnutrition, whereas in 2017 that number stood at 111. The marketing of breastmilk substitutes had been standardized in the 1990s. In cooperation with UNICEF, the Government had been promoting exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, as well as breastfeeding friendly areas. Child mortality had dropped to 35 per 10,000 live births.
The Government was also working on a strategy to prevent and completely eliminate teenage pregnancies. Since 2010 Guatemala had had a separate budget for comprehensive reproductive and sexual education in order to empower adolescents and help them make informed decisions. That education was developed through meetings with focus groups.
Turning to child labour, the delegation stated that the participation of children in the workforce stood at 9.2 per cent at the national level, the majority being indigenous children. To strengthen inter-institutional coordination and to eradicate the worst forms of child labour, in 2017, the Government had carried out a study on social and cultural perceptions of child labour, and it had learned that child labour in indigenous communities was not a cultural phenomenon. Inspections were carried out at the national level, mainly in the agricultural and industry sectors.
With respect to education, the authorities had developed a policy to expand the coverage of primary and secondary education, increase the quality of instruction, and remove bureaucratic barriers to education. As for children not attending school, the authorities encouraged parents to register their children at school and had launched a distance-learning programme. The Government had developed a subsidy programme for children from low-income families and those with disabilities at the secondary school level. A national system for support had been created to avoid school dropout. Anyone on the sex offender register was not allowed to work with children.
There were approximately 6,000 street children in Guatemala, mainly in urban areas. They could benefit from the services of some eight educational centers. One of the programmes focused on the prevention of drug use. The Ministry of Education had accelerated support programmes for those children and adolescents who could not attend school.
In 2015 the Supreme Court of Justice had created two additional juvenile chambers. The competence of the total of 17 juvenile chambers had been decentralized and training of officials had been organized. With respect to the measures adopted to avoid overcrowding in detention facilities, in 2018 the Government planned to restructure centers for adolescents in conflict with the law and to address the separation of sentenced adolescents and those in pre-trial detention.
There were no specific programmes to prevent suicide among children or on mental health, but there were school programmes on boosting self-confidence and guidance counselors were available. The Ministry of Education was constantly holding programmes on environmental issues.
Play and leisure time for children was ensured through sports and artistic activities in schools and extra curricula activities. Local municipalities had developed different ways of promoting arts, crafts, and cultural and sport activities. Sport centers had been built in rural areas.
LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNA REYNA, Committee Expert and head of the task force on Guatemala, stated that Guatemala was in a positive situation to move forward. The Government had the will and desire to move forward. Mr. Pederna Reyna expressed hope that the concluding observations would assist the Government in its human rights programmes and urged the Government to disseminate them as widely as possible.
JORGE LUIS BORRAYO REYES, President of the Presidential Human Rights Policy Coordination Commission of Guatemala, assured that the most recent changes in ministerial posts were normal in Guatemala. He thanked the Committee for a very enriching dialogue, adding that many challenges remained to be overcome. Guatemala was more than ready to accept the Committee’s recommendations in order to better protect the human rights of children and adolescents.
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for a frank and open dialogue. The most important thing was not to put the Committee’s concluding observations somewhere on a shelf and forget about them. It would be very helpful to translate them into local languages.
For use of the information media; not an official record