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Children Abandoned: Guatemala's Young People and Their Search for a Future

NCJ Number
Peter Katel
Date Published
29 pages
Based on interviews with youth in Guatemala and with representatives of government agencies, multilateral development agencies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), this study examined the crisis facing Guatemala's youth and possible strategies for helping them survive it.
Following the 1996 Peace Accords that ended nearly 40 decades of armed conflict, Guatemala's youth are bearing the brunt of the government's failure to lay the foundation for a just society. Forty-four percent of Guatemala's population is under 15 years old, and thousands of youth, orphaned or separated from their families, sleep in abandoned buildings and public areas; an estimated 2,450 youth work in brothels. Given the limited employment opportunities in their own country, Guatemalan workers are migrating to the United States in increasing numbers. These migrants help their families survive by sending money home, which amounted to $1.6 billion last year (7.5 percent of gross domestic product). This migration of male workers to the United States is placing great strain on already stressed families left in Guatemala, as women and children fear permanent abandonment by husbands and fathers. Children and youth are also migrating to the United States, with many of them hoping to find and live with a parent who preceded them to America. Guatemala's postwar crime surge is especially dangerous for youth, and home life is plagued by domestic violence that often extends to children. Guatemala lacks a comprehensive social safety net, with numerous programs scattered across many agencies. Members of the government and NGO's have assessed the Nation's needs and have committed themselves to planning how to deliver services. An intellectual infrastructure is in place to aid in planning. A National Action Plan for Street Children was developed in 2000 to include halfway houses for street children, vocational training, family reintegration, and accelerated primary schooling. 70 notes