Guatemala's Forgotten Children

Police Violence and Abuses in Detention

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Thousands of children living in Guatemala's streets face routine beatings, thefts, and sexual assaults at the hands of the National Police and private security guards (who are under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry). More serious crimes against street children, including assassination and torture, have lessened since the early 1990s, but still occur. More than ten other street children were murdered in 1996 under suspicious circumstances. Hundreds of other cases involving crimes against street children, however, remain stalled; most are never even investigated. Crimes against street children are a low priority for police investigators, particularly when a fellow officer is implicated. In contrast to the impunity enjoyed by police offenders, juvenile offenders, and even non-offenders, are dealt with harshly. "Juvenile justice" in Guatemala suffers from multiple and severe defects, rendering it less than justice and little more than warehousing.This report is based on interviews with thirty-five children and youths, conducted in August and September 1996 by a researcher for the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Project. We also spoke extensively with representatives of Guatemalan and international nongovernmental organizations, including several dedicated exclusively to working with street children. Government officials we interviewed included representatives of the Social Welfare Office of the Presidency of the Republic, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Minors' Magistrate, and the Public Ministry's Minors' Division.

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