Urgent Action
Street Children
January 30th, 1998  

1997, A Year of continuing violence
against Guatemalan Street Children

Casa Alianza Guatemala announced that its Legal Aid Office statistics for 1997 show that the last 12 months continued to be full of violence towards abandoned children for that country's street children.

Casa Alianza, a non profit agency that has provided rehabilitation services for thousands of street children in Guatemala since 1981, presented a total of 59 criminal lawsuits in the last year, bringing the total of pending cases to an astonishing 365.

An unidentified 10-year-old street boy, tortured with several machete cuts on his face and torso then thrown beneath a bridge, was one of the six children murdered in 1997. Due to the lack of adequate investigations, this and many other cases will probably never be resolved. Another 12 children were victims of grievous bodily harm.

As a result of recent joint investigations between Casa Alianza and the Procurator General of Guatemala, a total of 15 lawyers have been formally accused by Casa Alianza of illegalities in international adoptions. The processes have to be further investigated by the often unwilling Public Prosecutor's Office.

The Casa Alianza Legal Aid Office, a unique project initiated with Canadian government funding and now financed by the European Union, notes in their 1997 statistics that the number of National Policemen involved in violence against street children has dropped to six, considered "a significant positive difference compared to the period of 1992 to 1994 where close to 50 policemen a year were involved in torturing or murdering our children", stated Bruce Harris, the Executive Director for Latin American Programs for Casa Alianza - a branch of the New York based Covenant House.

In 1997 there was a significant increase in the numbers of private citizens who took to harming the street children. "With the frustration of an ineffective judicial system, people feel that they have to resort to physical violence against street children", informed Harris. Forty-one individuals either beat up or murdered Guatemalan abandoned children in 1997. "Unless the judicial system starts to function efficiently and restores people's faith in the justice dispensed, we should expect an even greater increase in violence by private citizens".

Casa Alianza established the Legal Aid Office in 1990, after the murder of 13 year old street boy Nahaman Carmona Lopez by four uniformed policemen. Since that time, Casa Alianza has presented 365 criminal accusations against more than 530 individuals, mostly members of the State's security forces.

In seven years, just 14 cases have been resolved by the Guatemalan judicial system - less than 4%. Five Casa Alianza cases are in the final stages before going to a sentencing Tribunal, yet an astonishing 184 cases have been filed due to a lack of investigation by the authorities. "It is these filed cases which are being prepared for the Inter American Commission on HRights", informed Harris, illustrating the agency's determination to look for justice in the cases of murdered children. "We are not willing nor able to throw in the towel and let the authorities literally get away with murder".

In 1997, Casa Alianza served an average of 265 children per day in residential programs, and a further 1,550 children during the year who have been unable to overcome their addiction to the street.

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