Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 November 2015, 08:46 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Guatemala

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Guatemala, 2004, available at: [accessed 26 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.

Republic of Guatemala

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 12 million (6.0 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 31,400 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 18
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 9 May 2002
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ILO 138, ILO 182

New legislation adopted as part of the peace accords protected under-18s from recruitment into the armed forces or deployment in armed conflicts. The national service program provides for service either in the armed forces or social service projects. Under-18s can carry out national service in social projects from the age of 16.


Human rights defenders, legal personnel and journalists who challenged the impunity enjoyed by most perpetrators of human rights abuses in the 30-year civil conflict were threatened and harassed.1 Military personnel continued to play an important role in security and policing, and civilians were recruited for intelligence activities.2

In March 2004, Guatemala was considering the introduction of anti-gang laws, as in El Salvador and Honduras.3 These were heavily criticized by human rights groups.


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1985 constitution says that it is the duty of citizens to serve and defend the country and to perform military and social service in accordance with the law (Article 135).4

In the period following the March 1994 Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights, as part of the peace settlement that ended the civil conflict, conscription was replaced by a system of voluntary recruitment in which recruits served for a period of time agreed by contract with the armed forces.5 The 1996 Agreement on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and on the Role of the Armed Forces in a Democratic Society envisaged a new system of voluntary and shorter military and community service, with voluntary military service maintained until such a system was established in law.6

However, conscription was not abolished. The Civic Service Law set up a national service program in which young people between the ages of 18 and 24 must serve either in the armed forces or in social service projects. Secondary school students may anticipate their social service requirement by volunteering at the age of 16 to do community service only, for a period of up to 18 months or of 728 hours (Article 42). Social service may not be carried out in military installations or under the supervision of military personnel (Article 35). Under Article 34 of the Civic Service Law, military service undertaken within the new service system is regulated by the Law on the Constitution of the Army (Ley Constitutiva del Ejército), which requires that those performing military service must be men aged between 18 and 30, and that the length of service is 30 months.7

The 2003 Law of Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents replaced the 1996 Children and Young Persons Code. It establishes that all children and adolescents have the right not to be recruited into the armed forces or deployed in armed conflicts, and that the state must ensure relevant international humanitarian legislation is respected and applicable to them (Article 57). The state is also responsible for adopting all necessary measures to ensure that under-18s do not participate directly in hostilities and are not recruited into military service at any time.8

There were no reports of children serving in the armed forces.

Military training and military schools

The Adolfo V. Hall Institutes, created in 1955, prepare army reserve officers and those seeking to pursue a military career. They are under the authority of the Ministry of Defence and follow a curriculum agreed in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. Students seeking enrolment must be between 11 and 14 years of age.9

Internal regulations allow physical punishment as a means to discipline students. In May 2002 the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) recommended that the military educational and instruction systems be reformed to abolish physical punishment and modernize the curriculum, as agreed in the peace accords.10

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

There was little progress in reintegrating former members of the armed opposition group, the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG), Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit, as agreed under the peace accords. However, nearly 6,000 homes were built in 2002 and 2003 for victims of internal displacement. In May 2003 an important project financed by the European Union to support the reintegration of former combatants came to an end. National resources were not allocated to allow the continuation of similar initiatives to assist demobilized and displaced populations.11

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Amnesty International Reports 2002, 2003 and 2004,

2 UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), Situación de los compromisos relativos al Ejército en los Acuerdos de paz, May 2002.

3 La Prensa (Honduras), "Guatemala analizará las leyes de El Salvador contra las pandillas", 18 January 2004,

4 Constitution,

5 Initial report of Guatemala to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/3/Add.33, 20 April 1995,

6 Acuerdo sobre fortalecimiento del poder civil y función del Ejército en una sociedad democrática, (Acuerdos de paz), or in English at US Institute of Peace, html.

7 Ley del Servicio Cívico, No. 20-2003 of 12 May 2003, (Legislación Parlamentaria, Decretos); B. Horeman and M. Stolwijk, Refusing to Bear Arms: A World Survey of Conscription and Conscientious Objection to Military Service, War Resisters International, London, 1998,

8 Ley de Protección Integral de la Niñez y Adolescencia, No. 27-2003 of 4 June 2003, (Legislación Parlamentaria, Decretos).

9 Ministry of Defence, gt/escuelas/iavh/central/index.html.

10 MINUGUA, Situación de los compromisos relativos al Ejército en los Acuerdos de paz, op. cit.

11 Misión de Verificación de las Naciones Unidas en Guatemala: Informe del Secretario General (octavo informe, el 1° de mayo de 2002 al 15 de julio de 2003), UN Doc. A/58/267, 11 August 2003,

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