Committee on the Rights of the Child
Seventy - seventh session
Summary record of the 2257th meeting
Held at the Palais Wilson, Geneva, on Wednesday, 17 January 2018, at 10 a.m.
Consideration of reports of States parties (continued)
Combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Guatemala (continued)
The meeting was called to order at 10.05 a.m.
Consideration of reports submitted by States parties (continued)
Combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Guatemala (continued) (CRC/C/GTM/5-6; CRC/C/GTM/Q/5-6 and CRC/C/GTM/Q/5-6/Add.1)
At the invitation of the Chair, the delegation of Guatemala took places at the Committee table.
The Chair (Country Task Force) said that she would like to know why the standard of living in rural areas and among indigenous communities remained much lower than that in urban areas and what the State party was doing to address that gap. As Guatemala had one of the highest rates of early pregnancy in the world, she also asked what was being done to address that issue.
She wished to know what steps were being taken to combat the push factors that drove children to migrate. It would also be interesting to know what mechanisms were in place to assist child victims and witnesses of crimes and whether the State party intended to adopt legislation based on the model law prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime.
She asked why the level of impunity for attacks perpetrated against children from minorities and indigenous backgrounds was so high and what the impact of the efforts made to reduce discrimination against those groups had been. She also enquired why both the poverty rate among indigenous children and the percentage of children involved in organized crime had further increased and what was being done to combat those problems.
Mr. Borrayo Reyes (Guatemala) said that, although progress had been made, the situation in the country remained complex. The repercussions of the civil war continued to be felt, primarily owing to the break-up of families that it had caused. Various efforts were being made to improve the situation, including through a programme, supported by the United States Government, to promote prosperity in the Central American “Northern Triangle”, but resources were limited.
Ms. Contreras Mejía (Guatemala) said that, in response to the fire at the Virgen de la Asunción shelter, the Social Welfare Secretariat was developing a strategy to introduce administrative care and protection mechanisms, promote family reunification, restructure the foster programme and establish care homes. In addition, a national programme had been adopted to raise awareness of the negative effects of institutionalization; parenting workshops were being run in local communities; and non-residential psychosocial care and support was being provided to families. Multidisciplinary teams of professionals and strategic alliances with international organizations and civil society actors had been established to support those efforts.
Furthermore, the agency under which the home had operated had been closed down, and a new protection cluster had been set up to support family reunification, establish residential care homes and 72-hour care centres, introduce a foster programme and provide psychosocial care. A high-level committee had been established to monitor the implementation of the cluster. Deinstitutionalization measures had also been adopted, and efforts were being made to introduce alternative care measures, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations.
The Social Welfare Secretariat had reunited most of the survivors of the fire with their biological or extended family; in four cases, financial support was being provided. Victims also had access to psychosocial support and specialized therapy. Work was being done with the adolescent victims, particularly those at risk of drug abuse, to develop life plans. Furthermore, international cooperation efforts were helping to support the work of the institutions involved and assess the capacity of their personnel.
Mr. Cardona Llorens said that it would be interesting to know where the children with disabilities who had been resident at the home had been sent. As many families did not have the financial means to care for children with disabilities, he asked what was being done to overcome poverty in such cases and encourage deinstitutionalization.
Ms. Aldoseri (Coordinator, Country Task Force) said that she wished to know why the State party was building four new care institutions when resources could be better spent on supporting alternative, community-based care measures.
Mr. Bautista (Guatemala) said that family reintegration was an 18-month long process, which the Office of the Public Attorney for Children and Adolescents was working to implement. Protection plans had been introduced to ensure that all the children with disabilities who had been returned to their families following the incident at the shelter had access to community services and received financial support. Such plans had been developed even before the incident as part of the Government’s deinstitutionalization strategy.
In 2016, the Social Welfare Secretariat, the National Adoption Council and the Counsel General had signed an agreement with the aim of eliminating care homes through the adoption of an alternative system of administrative protection measures designed to reduce the need for judicial proceedings. In 2017, under the new system, the rate of institutionalization had dropped from 75 per cent to 2 per cent. Children were institutionalized only where it was in their best interests; the majority of children were placed instead with their extended families under a protection plan.
He requested that the Committee provide the Office of the Public Attorney for Children and Adolescents with greater technical support to help it improve its deinstitutionalization processes.
Ms. Guzmán Loyo (Guatemala) said that an immediate, impartial and objective investigation had been opened following the fire at the Virgen de la Asunción shelter, as a result of which criminal proceedings had been launched against eight officials. On 30 March 2017, arrest warrants had been issued for the director of the shelter, the former Secretary of the Social Welfare Secretariat and the former Under-Secretary. On 8 June 2017, an arrest warrant had been issued for the Advocate for Children and Adolescents; he was currently still in his post and thus continued to be in contact with children. Arrest warrants had also been issued on that date for the Human Rights Defender for Children, the head of the protection department for the shelter, the Deputy-Commissioner of the National Civil Police and a deputy-inspector. Charges against the suspects had been brought on 12 June 2017.
With regard to the victims, human-rights organizations were helping to provide food and shelter where required, and psychological support had been provided to the families of the deceased. In order to prevent revictimization, the survivors had been allowed to testify anonymously. Allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated before the fire were also being investigated. Furthermore, in 2016 the Human Rights Advocate had ruled that the human rights of the victims had been violated and he had named the individuals responsible.
Mr. Pedernera Reyna (Country Task Force) asked whether, in addition to those who had already been named, any other individuals who had worked directly with the children had been charged.
Ms. Dávila Salazar (Guatemala) said that the Juvenile Court of First Instance in Guatemala City had issued a ruling in December 2016 regarding the Virgen de la Asunción case, in which it had found that multiple violations had taken place, including overcrowding, ill-treatment and abuse. The Court had also ordered the Counsel General to ensure that all children were returned to their immediate or extended families and had authorized the Public Prosecution Service to investigate allegations of abuse and ill-treatment. The charges brought against the persons who had been detained so far included culpable homicide, abuse of authority, breach of duty and ill-treatment of minors.
More than 80 per cent of the victims had been deinstitutionalized; those remaining in institutions were kept there because no alternative protection measures were available. In general, children were placed in institutions only as a last resort and for no more than three months. The Counsel General had carried out an assessment of the institutionalized population to identify the reasons for institutionalization and the ideal family conditions in which to place children.
Mr. Bautista (Guatemala) said that over 600 children and adolescents, including 183 children with disabilities, had been resident in the Virgen de la Asunción shelter at the time of the fire. A strategic plan for the gradual closure of such shelters was in place; one shelter had recently been closed because it had not been authorized by the National Adoption Council. Thanks to humanitarian assistance from international organizations, specialized personnel had been appointed to provide psychosocial support for victims and training for staff from the Counsel General’s Office, the Social Welfare Secretariat and other related institutions. Many of the children who had been resident in the shelter had been reunited with their families; staff from the Counsel General’s Office periodically visited families to monitor the implementation of protection plans. Humanitarian funds had also helped to establish a protection cluster for the coordination of those monitoring efforts.
Ms. Guzm á n Loyo (Guatemala) said that the Public Prosecution Service was investigating whether other persons might be criminally responsible for offences committed either before or after the fire at the shelter. In relation to complaints brought before the fire, two sentences had been handed down, charges had been brought in seven other cases, and the public hearing of a further case was imminent. The charges brought included sexual assault and the ill-treatment of minors. The Service had found no evidence to corroborate claims that criminal networks were sexually exploiting children in homes; however, investigations into individual cases were ongoing.
Ms. Ayoubi Idrissi, while acknowledging the efforts being made to monitor children following deinstitutionalization, said she wished to know whether any quality standards were imposed in that regard; whether any children were put into foster care and, if so, within what legal framework; and how many social workers were responsible for monitoring deinstitutionalized children.
Ms. Contreras Mejía (Guatemala) said that the Social Welfare Secretariat was currently responsible for 118 children with disabilities and was developing a deinstitutionalization programme with families specialized in caring for them. Foster families were trained and certified.
Ms. Aldoseri asked whether families were also trained to foster children with disabilities.
Ms. Contreras Mejía (Guatemala) said that a model was being developed whereby families with specialist knowledge would foster children with disabilities.
Ms. Arévalo Flores de Corzantes (Guatemala) said that the Public Criminal Defence Institute guaranteed the confidentiality of children in conflict with the law. Where children were deprived of their liberty, the public defender upheld their right to communicate with their family. Six of the 36 habeas corpus actions brought in 2017 had been declared admissible.
Ms. Contreras Mejía (Guatemala) said that the Government had developed measures to help keep migrant children with their families. It had also devised a training programme to provide psychosocial support to unaccompanied migrant children returning to Guatemala and had created a network to monitor such children. Technical training had been provided to hundreds of children and adolescents, including in entrepreneurship. Moreover, the Ministry of Education had launched a distance learning programme to help prevent young people outside the school system from joining gangs or emigrating and to provide Guatemalans living abroad with primary and secondary education so that they could take up skilled positions if and when they returned to Guatemala.
Mr. Romero García (Guatemala) said that, since 2015, the Ministry of the Interior had been working to improve the situation of detained mothers and their children. It had deployed mobile birth registration units in places of detention to ensure that the children of detainees received identity papers. It was also working with four detention centres to improve the quality of family visits and the living conditions of such children. In some centres, scanners had been installed to prevent the need for intrusive body checks, and crèches and play areas had been provided. Moreover, a prison specifically for 250 mothers and their young children was being built in Villa Nueva. The Ministry was due to sign an agreement with the Social Welfare Secretariat with a view to fully meeting children’s nutritional and day-care needs.
The Ministry was working with schools and youth organizations in vulnerable neighbourhoods to address the root causes of children’s recruitment to criminal gangs. In partnership with the United States Embassy in Guatemala, a programme had been rolled out to help prevent primary and secondary school pupils from joining gangs by improving communication with their families and teachers.
A programme to recover public spaces in over 200 municipalities across the country had successfully reduced indicators on violence over the past seven years. A number of officers were currently receiving specialist training in project assessment with a view to improving such programmes.
Ms. Aldoseri asked whether the recruitment of minors to the army and non-State armed groups was specifically criminalized in the Criminal Code and, if not, whether the Government was taking steps to ensure that it was.
Mr. González Díaz (Guatemala) said that a new strategy had been devised to reduce the prevalence of chronic malnutrition in Guatemala based on the recommendations of an impact study on the previous prevention strategy. The new strategy focused on the adoption of good nutrition practices, the provision of micronutrients and the treatment of acute malnutrition; it aimed in particular to improve the nutrition of mothers, pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children up to 2 years of age. Over the past 20 years, the prevalence rate of chronic malnutrition had fallen by 8.7 per cent.
The Government had adopted and incorporated into domestic law the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Some 73 per cent of children received breast milk within an hour of birth and 56 per cent of infants up to 6 months of age were fed exclusively on breast milk. The National Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition was promoting the establishment of clean and healthy breastfeeding areas in workplaces.
Guatemala had reduced its child mortality rate to 35 per 1,000 live births, which was in line with Millennium Development Goal 4. Efforts had been made over the past 20 years to stamp out malnutrition, as a result of which malnutrition-related deaths had fallen from 550 in 2008 to a little over 100 in 2017.
In relation to the question raised concerning the deaths of indigenous children in the municipality of Camotán, in 2013, a court of first instance had found that the right to food had been violated. In recent years, the National Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition and the Counsel General’s Office had set up a mechanism to follow up those cases. The delegation would transmit additional information in writing to the Committee on the progress made by the various institutions involved.
Ms. Aldoseri asked how the Government monitored compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and whether a specific body had been established to that end.
Ms. Teleguario Sincal (Guatemala) said that the national child labour rate was 9.2 per cent and that more than three quarters of working children were from indigenous groups. A 2014 national inquiry into living conditions had shown that the six departments with the highest child labour indices were inhabited predominantly by indigenous peoples. The authorities in three of those departments were working with the respective departmental commissions for the prevention and eradication of child labour to combat the problem through an inter-institutional and intersectoral approach in conjunction with public and private bodies, NGOs and international organizations. Particular emphasis was being laid on gauging support needs, implementing the National Plan for Prevention and Eradication of Child Labour, protecting adolescent workers, strengthening inter-institutional coordination and disseminating strategies for the eradication of the worst forms of child labour. In 2017, a study conducted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare on the perceptions and sociocultural meaning of child labour had demonstrated that child labour in indigenous populations was not a cultural phenomenon.
Ministry of Labour inspections had been carried out primarily in the agricultural and industrial sectors. The more than 3,700 inspections conducted in 2017 had revealed 37 cases of child labour; the corresponding administrative penalties had been imposed in those cases. The Public Prosecution Service had identified 79 minors, who were aged between 14 and 17 years and who were mostly mestizo, engaged in employment harmful to their well-being. As part of the National Policy on Decent Employment, various activities were conducted to support the population groups which most needed employment assistance; those groups included young people.
Mr. López Rivas (Guatemala) said that, under a policy aimed at increasing primary and secondary school completion rates, the Ministry of Education provided schoolchildren with school meals and school supplies and teachers with training and additional resources. At the primary level, special focus was placed on pupils in their first year, as studies had shown that successful completion of first grade was a key factor in preventing school dropout later.
Following a school census conducted in 2017 to identify children who were not attending school, school enrolment had increased by 50,000 in 2018. Among other measures, the elimination of certain administrative procedures and the automatic registration of pupils had helped improve access to primary education. At the secondary level, scholarships had been awarded to 31,000 children to enable them to continue their studies. In addition, nearly 5,000 children with disabilities living in situations of poverty had been granted bursaries.
The Chair said that she would like to know more about the situation of first-graders who did not speak Spanish and about the hidden costs of education, which often prevented parents from sending their children to school.
Mr. Cardona Llorens, noting that financial support for families of children with disabilities was of limited benefit in the absence of appropriate support services, said that he would like to know what rehabilitation and early childhood development services were available for those families.
Mr. López Rivas (Guatemala) said that a fundamental element of the programme for first-graders was ensuring that teachers spoke their pupils’ mother tongues. The Ministry of Education had implemented a series of policies and programmes to increase student enrolment, identify and assist students at risk of academic failure, and ensure school retention in marginal areas. The Ministry placed particular emphasis on teacher training, given its importance to student success.
Mr. Pedernera Reyna said that he would like to know how many children were out-of-school and would welcome information on any assessments of the effectiveness of the education system.
Mr. López Rivas (Guatemala) said that approximately 1.8 million persons aged 14 to 24 were outside the education system; the number of children younger than 14 years outside the system exceeded half a million.
The meeting was suspended at 11.30 a.m. and resumed at 11.55 a.m.
The Chair said that she would be interested to know what impact the appointment of three new ministers might have in terms of levels of experience within the Government.
Ms. Rodríguez Mancia (Guatemala) said that the ministers in question were experienced and knowledgeable and would ensure policy continuity.
Mr. González Díaz (Guatemala) said that compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes was monitored under the food and nutrition security programme of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare. A number of hospitals and health-care centres had recently been certified as breastfeeding-friendly, and several public hospitals had breast milk banks. The number of cases of underage pregnancy had fallen from nearly 95,000 in 2016 to under 91,000 in 2017. The Ministry’s strategy for the prevention of teenage pregnancy took the gender perspective into account.
Mr. Romero García (Guatemala) said that the recruitment of minors into organized criminal groups was punishable by imprisonment of from 8 to 18 years under the Criminal Code.
Ms. Aldoseri asked whether a person was considered a minor until the age of 18 years.
Mr. Borrayo Reyes (Guatemala) said that the Constitution established 18 years as the age of majority.
Mr. López Rivas (Guatemala) said that the National Comprehensive Sex Education Strategy sought to prevent underage pregnancy by helping young people make informed decisions.
Ms. Sandberg asked whether children and adolescents had participated in the development of the sex education programme.
Mr. López Rivas (Guatemala) said that focus groups involving young people had been consulted to determine the topics which should be covered and the methodology which should be applied.
Ms. Teleguario Sincal (Guatemala) said that public policy on the protection of children in street situations, of whom there were some 6,000 in the country, was undergoing a significant revision. Measures which helped to break the cycle of poverty, such as the National Policy on Decent Employment, helped to reduce the number of children living in the street. The Executive Secretariat of the Committee against Drug Addiction and Drug Trafficking ran a drug prevention programme for young people at risk of living in street situations.
Ms. Dávila Salazar (Guatemala) said that, in 2016, the Supreme Court had expanded the jurisdiction of the 17 existing appellate courts to include juvenile cases. To further address the issue of juveniles in conflict with the law, training had been delivered to over 3,000 public officials and multidisciplinary teams. In more than 1,000 cases involving young people in conflict with the law, socio-educational measures had been applied as alternatives to the deprivation of liberty.
Ms. Contreras Mejía (Guatemala) said that the Social Welfare Secretariat had developed a family, community and educational reintegration project for adolescents in conflict with the law, which focused on preventing recidivism. It had recruited 141 additional monitors for the purpose and set up 21 multidisciplinary teams. The Secretariat had also established a comprehensive information technology management system on adolescents in conflict with the law and conducted assessments of the staff responsible for managing juvenile detention facilities. A project to train monitors in human rights issues would be implemented during 2018.
With a view to preventing overcrowding in reintegration centres, the Secretariat was coordinating, pursuant to a judicial order, with the National Secretariat for Administration of Forfeited Property (SENABED) with a view to acquiring furniture that could be used by the Sub-Secretariat for Reintegration and Social Rehabilitation of Adolescents in Conflict with the Criminal Law. There were plans to renovate in 2018 the Virgen de la Asunción shelter with the support of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Further action would also be taken to renovate and improve living standards in detention facilities for adolescents.
A procedure had been launched to ensure that adolescents awaiting trial were held separately from those already serving sentences. Access to education was facilitated in detention centres by means of a flexible methodology. In 2017, a total of 771 young people had been enrolled at various levels of education; 48 had completed secondary education and 13 adolescents deprived of their liberty had enrolled in distance learning university courses. Recreational and handicraft activities were also organized in detention centres. In addition, vocational training courses and workshops were organized with European Union support under the Programme for Security and Justice in Guatemala.
Mr. Bautista (Guatemala) said that a total of 4,509 children and adolescents had been institutionalized in 113 homes at the end of 2017. A hundred of the homes had already been certified by the National Adoption Council and 13 were currently being reviewed. The Council, in coordination with the Social Welfare Secretariat, regularly monitored the homes with a view to improving existing care standards.
Bill No. 5285 to amend the Act on the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents was undergoing a second reading before Congress. It provided for the monitoring of policies implemented by different ministries throughout the country. The national council of protection would be chaired by the Ministry for Social Development and a special institute for the protection of children and adolescents would also be established. Bill No. 5285 had been drafted in consultation with NGOs and public institutions, as well as with children and adolescents themselves.
Ms. Sandberg said that she would like to know about arrangements to support children’s mental health and, in particular, to prevent suicide. She also enquired about school health-care services, such as access to nurses. She would welcome replies to the questions she had already raised regarding environmental health.
Mr. Romero García (Guatemala) said that there was no specific programme to prevent suicide. Under the Safe Schools Programme, however, 198 schools implemented substantive programmes comprising three modules which sought among other things to bolster students’ self-esteem and self-confidence, to reduce their vulnerability to peer pressure and to prevent suicide.
Mr. López Rivas (Guatemala) said that the education system did not provide for a mental health programme. However, teachers, counsellors and psychologists in educational establishments endeavoured to develop students’ self-esteem.
An environmental education strategy had been developed and was implemented jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The Ministry of Education organized reforestation, recycling and cleaning days as well as intensive teacher training programmes.
Ms. Guzmán Loyo (Guatemala) said that Congress had approved the establishment of a genetic database of sex offenders for forensic purposes and a national register of sex offenders in 2017. The bill had been proposed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and presented by the Supreme Court of Justice. It had been approved in November 2017 and had entered into force in December 2017. The DNA of convicted sex offenders and their location and employment would be recorded, and they would not be permitted to work with children or adolescents. Persons who had not been convicted would be issued with a certificate by email so that they had access to employment with children or adolescents. A total of 5,645 convicted offenders, of whom 98 per cent were men, had initially been included in the database. Action had been taken against 33 teachers in educational establishments who had been identified as convicted sex offenders.
Ms. Skelton said that she welcomed the establishment of the register of sex offenders. Noting that some sex offenders were children, she asked whether the law differentiated between offenders who were under the age of 18 and older offenders.
The Chair asked whether sexual intercourse between children, for instance a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy, was viewed as a sexual offence in the State party. She also requested information regarding arrangements for leisure and recreational activities for children and adolescents in a safe environment in urban and rural areas.
Mr. López Rivas (Guatemala) said that various ministries and directorates organized recreational activities involving, for example, arts and crafts, music, sports and traditional games. For example, the Ministry of Culture and Sports ran community art academies to help children to develop their skills in an extracurricular environment. Local municipalities had also developed diverse facilities to promote arts and crafts, recreation and entertainment for young people. The natural environment in rural areas attracted a large number of tourists. Schools had free access to such areas and the Ministry of Culture and Sports built many sports centres for young people. However, a more comprehensive plan for recreational activities should be developed.
Mr. Romero García (Guatemala) said that the Ministry of the Interior had been implementing a preventive strategy aimed at protecting children and adolescents through preventive committees in 202 of the 340 municipalities. Action was taken to identify public areas that could serve as protected locations for recreational activities and for development of the identity of local communities. During 2016 and 2017, the Ministry had developed 80 municipal preventive policies and programmes. A programme would shortly be launched to develop public areas for community gardening, sports and other recreational activities in Guatemala City with a view to improving living conditions, especially for children and adolescents.
Ms. Ayoubi Idrissi enquired about recreational facilities on behalf of vulnerable groups, particularly young people who were deprived of their liberty and children with disabilities. She asked what measures were taken to promote the reintegration and rehabilitation of child victims of sexual violence. She also enquired about procedures for ensuring confidential access for children to the independent monitoring mechanism.
Ms. Aho Assouma, noting that some 91,000 cases of early pregnancy had been recorded in 2017, asked whether steps were being taken to render the preventive programme run by the Ministry of Education more effective. She wished to know whether girls who were pregnant could continue to attend school, whether they could seek support, and whether abortion was authorized and safe. She enquired about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and asked whether mother-to-child transmission of HIV was investigated in the case of pregnant women. She asked whether underage employees, especially indigenous children, could be removed from their jobs.
Mr. Gastaud asked whether school programmes allocated sufficient time for recreational activities, and whether teachers and families had been alerted to the need to reserve sufficient leisure time for children who performed domestic chores.
Ms. Aldoseri asked whether all offences under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had been explicitly criminalized.
Noting that 159 children had disappeared after the fire at the Virgen de la Asunción shelter, she asked whether the authorities had recorded any cases of children who had been trafficked or forced into prostitution.
She enquired about action taken to prosecute paedophiles who had been employed as volunteers in institutions for juveniles. She had been horrified by an advertisement on the Internet inviting volunteers from the United States to come and sleep with children in the State party.
Mr. Borrayo Reyes (Guatemala) said that the delegation would shortly provide written answers to the questions just raised.
Mr. Pedernera Reyna encouraged the State party to disseminate the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations as widely as possible, including to children in their diverse mother tongues.
Mr. Borrayo Reyes (Guatemala) said that he wished to thank the Committee for the fruitful interactive dialogue. The self-assessment exercise had demonstrated that, notwithstanding the action taken by his country to promote children’s rights, major challenges persisted. He assured the Committee that Guatemala was prepared to accept its recommendations, which would doubtless bolster its action in that regard.
The Chair said that UNICEF had offered to assist in translating the concluding observations and recommendations into the diverse languages of the State party.
The meeting rose at 12.50 p.m.