Guatemala is home to more than 500,000 orphans. Orphans, in addition to children living in extreme poverty in Guatemala, are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by gangs and traffickers. According to the World Bank, almost 60% of the population lived under the national poverty line in 2014. As a result of poverty and harsh living conditions, families sometimes abandon children and force them into child labor while other children endure neglect and abuse. According to Serving Orphans Worldwide, many of Guatemala’s abandoned children “wander the streets where they work and are more prone to suffer from exploitation.” Several organizations are working to safeguard the well-being of vulnerable children in Guatemala.
Child Labor in Guatemala
According to a 2021 report on child labor and forced labor in Guatemala by the Department of Labor (DOL), vulnerable children in Guatemala face exploitation and exposure to the worst types of forced labor, such as sexual exploitation as a result of child trafficking. The country of Guatemala has become accustomed to child labor with a large portion of its economy supported by it. According to the DOL, in 2020, more than 200,000 children between the ages of 7 and 14 engaged in child labor. The widespread conditions of poverty in the country force families to push their children into child labor to add to the household income.
Children from Guatemala’s Indigenous communities make up more than 50% of child laborers in the country and children residing in rural areas are more likely to engage in child labor than those in Guatemala’s urban centers. These rural children mostly engage in agricultural work under arduous conditions using dangerous equipment such as machetes. “Children as young as age 5 also work in coffee fields picking and carrying heavy loads of coffee beans and mixing and applying pesticides,” the DOL report says.
The DOL states that some parents send their children to work on the streets as performers. But, these children are at risk of traffickers selling them to criminal groups. The children work long hours on the street and must sometimes wear attention-grabbing body paint that is toxic to the skin.
Many vulnerable children in Guatemala are also exploited for sex work, with Guatemala being a “destination country for child sex tourists from Canada, the United States and Western Europe.” Gangs and trafficking rings usually target young girls for sexual exploitation. For this reason, young Guatemalan girls try to flee the country with their entire families to escape violence and exploitation.
In 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “reported apprehending more than 264,000 Guatemalans, including more than 185,000 people in “family units” – a parent or legal guardian traveling with a child – and more than 30,000 unaccompanied children,” the Guardian says. Many of these families sought safety in the U.S. away from violence and poverty in Guatemala.
All God’s Children International
While some seek to exploit vulnerable children in Guatemala, others are working to safeguard the human rights of these children. All God’s Children International (AGCI) has worked in Guatemala for more than two decades, beginning in 2001. AGCI is responsible for giving care to 1,400 orphans in Guatemala. The organization helped place 514 orphans in the adoptive care of “forever families” by way of the AGCI’s adoption program.
The organization now focuses on “family preservation efforts” to support vulnerable children and families in Guatemala. Through the support of a local Guatemalan ministry, AGCI has provided more than 3,500 women and children with “counseling and economic support” through community development initiatives.
AGCI’s Education Sponsorship Program allows donors to ensure children under AGCI’s care “attend school, remain within their family’s care, receive healthy meals to fuel their studies and save for their future education,” the AGCI website says.
While conditions of poverty and violence in Guatemala are not conducive to the well-being of children, organizations such as All God’s Children International are making a difference by positively impacting the lives of vulnerable children in Guatemala.
– David Keenan