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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Guatemala

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Guatemala, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 12.6 million (6.3 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 15,500
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 9 May 2002
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182

Some 16-year-old boys in eastern parts of the country were recruited and used as soldiers.


National recruitment legislation and practice

Guatemalans had to register with the military authorities on becoming 18, regardless of their place of residence. Women were required to join active military service in times of war.1

The Law of Social and Civic Service (Legislative Decree 20-2003) provided for alternative service for conscientious objectors. There were no specific policies on indigenous populations, who formed a considerable proportion of recruits.2

Non-governmental organizations reported that in some areas 16-year-olds were "delivered" to army officials by their families, in the belief that military service was an essential part of their becoming men. Military authorities reportedly permitted this type of recruitment in eastern regions of the country, where the birth registration process was weak.3

The Law of Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents (Legislative Decree 27-2003) stated that "in the event of armed conflict, children and young persons have the right not to be recruited and the State shall abide by and enforce the applicable norms of international humanitarian law. The State shall take all possible measures to ensure that persons who have not yet attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities and are not recruited for military service at any time."4

There was no legal provision criminalizing the recruitment of children, but several statutory offences described in the Criminal Code, such as abduction of children and abuse of power, could be applied against recruiters.5 There were no plans to include a provision expressly prohibiting the recruitment of children under 18 in the Criminal Code.6

Military training and military schools

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assisted in training members of the army in international humanitarian law;7 the government reported that more than 14,000 men and 970 women in the armed forces had received human rights training.8

There were 11 educational establishments administered by the armed forces.9 Under national law, children attending military schools were not members of the armed or reserve forces, and were not required to join the armed forces.10 In the event of an emergency or armed conflict they could not be designated active members of the armed forces or be enlisted.11

Officer cadets followed a four-year course at the Polytechnic School (Escuela Politécnica).12 Candidates had to be at least 17 and have completed secondary-school. Cadets at the Polytechnic School could apply to become naval officers at the Navy School after completing at least one year of studies.13 The minimum age of entry to the Adolfo V. Hall schools, which combined academic and military education over five or six years, was 11; graduation after completing five years was as a sub-lieutenant in the army reserve. Candidates to the Military Aviation Technical School had to have successfully completed the third grade of basic education, but no minimum age was specified. Cadets at the Military Aviation School had to have completed a minimum of two years' study at the Polytechnic School.14

There were reports of the use of corporal punishment in military schools and that no adequate impartial complaints mechanisms were available to students.15

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

According to the government the National Compensation Program provided psychosocial rehabilitation and material compensation to victims of serious human rights violations during the internal armed conflict which ended in 1996, including the forced recruitment of children.16 It was estimated that of the 3,000 members of the armed opposition group Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca, URNG) who participated in reintegration programs, 214 were under 18 years of age.17

Non-governmental organizations reported that a lack of information on the number and age of those recruited during the conflict had prevented former child soldiers from benefiting from any reparation or reintegration programs, most of which were aimed at widows and former members of armed opposition groups and self-defence groups.18


There were no reports of armed political groups operating in the country, but gangs and criminal groups with links to private security companies and former and current members of the police committed hundreds of killings and other crimes.19 It was estimated that there were around 340 gangs in Guatemala, with as many as 165,000 members in all, mostly under 24 years of age.20

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, on reviewing Guatemala's initial Optional Protocol report in June 2007, expressed concern about the lack of specific legal provisions criminalizing child recruitment and of information on safeguards adopted to ensure that children were not recruited or involved in armed conflict.21

In October 2007 Guatemala endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The two documents, which were previously endorsed by 59 states at a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for the protection of and assistance to child soldiers, following a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

1 Decreto No 72-90, Ley Constitutiva del Ejército, Leyes de Guatemala.

2 Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), Programa Seguridad y Ciudadanía, Reporte del Sector Seguridad en América Latina y el Caribe, Informe Nacional: Guatemala, August 2006,

3 Movimiento Social por los Derechos de la Niñez, Adolescencia y Juventud en Guatemala, "Informe Alternativo sobre el Cumplimiento del Protocolo Facultativo de la CDN sobre la Participación de los Niños en Conflictos Armados", November 2006,

4 Initial report of Guatemala to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/GTM/1, 17 July 2006.

5 Ibid.

6 Written replies by Guatemala to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/GTM/Q/1/Add.1, 23 April 2007.

7 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), "Guatemala: respetar el derecho humanitario desde el entrenamiento", 19 July 2006,

8 UN Committee against Torture, Thirty-sixth session, Summary record of the 701st meeting: Guatemala, UN Doc. CAT/C/SR.701, 12 May 2006.

9 Initial report, above note 4.

10 NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, State Party Examination of Guatemala's Initial Report on the OPAC, Session report, 8 June 2007,

11 Written replies, above note 6.

12 Escuela Politécnica, Admisión.

13 Ministerio de la Defensa Nacional, Acuerdo Gubernativo No. 714-95, December 1995,

14 Initial report, above note 4.

15 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of report submitted by Guatemala, Concluding observations, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/GTM/CO/1 (unedited version), 8 June 2007.

16 Committee against Torture, above note 8.

17 Initial report, above note 4.

18 Movimiento Social por los Derechos de la Niñez, above note 3.

19 US State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2006: Guatemala, 6 March 2007,

20 USAID, Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, Annex 2: Guatemala Profile, April 2006,

21 Concluding observations, above note 15.

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