Guatemala’s strategic location and geography make it attractive to organised crime groups wanting to link drug producers with drug consumers. As a result, some of the crime areas which most affect the country are associated with drug trafficking, such as extortion, murder and trafficking in firearms and people. While organised crime groups have been present in the country for decades, the economic hardship following the pandemic have given gangs new opportunities to tighten their grip on the most vulnerable communities and children are exposed to high levels of violence.
The country is home to a number of mafia style groups - some estimates suggest that there are between 10,000 to 20,000 gang members in the country. Organised crime groups are in constant need of new members and see street children as easy targets. They have a pattern of targeting minors to recruit them, as the law is more lenient on those under 18 if they are caught. The gangs also benefit from the fact that many street children are not registered at birth. Unregistered children do not officially exist, so they have no legal protection – they are not even counted as missing when they do disappear.
Children also experience violence in the home due to extreme pressures on income. Domestic violence is transgenerational and normalised through generations and is a major cause of children leaving home and turning to the streets for solace.
For street children in Guatemala, services to directly assist child victims of violence and their families remain weak in and, in many areas, non-existent.