Killing Kids in Central America


Universe Column for August 19th 2004.

by David Alton

Earlier this week the Ambassadors of the Central American republics held a reception in London . They have a good story to tell about many of the developments in their countries. Yet, like their much bigger Latin American neighbour in Brazil , their reputations are badly damaged by the continued slaughter of children on their streets.

Thanks to organisations like Casa Alianza and Jubilee Campaign the plight of these children is not entirely forgotten. But it amazes me that, when you consider the scale of the unrelenting carnage, the world’s media seem largely indifferent.

During the month of July more than 100 more murders occurred but where were the television reporters or the foreign affairs correspondents?

During July in Guatemala City alone there were 54 young victims; in Honduras 36; Nicaragua 8 and Costa Rica 2. All were under the age of 23. Casa Alianza, who compiled the names and details of the fatalities, does not have a presence in El Salvador so the number of child murders is likely to have been even greater.

From the collated information it has emerged that fifty percent of the murders were of young people between 18 and 23 years of age and that 27% were boys under 18. Young women and girls accounted for 17 victims (17%) of the regional total: seven of the victims were girls under 18 and ten female victims between 18 and 23 years old.

Although there is violence against young people in all the Central American countries, the majority of the murders in the region were in Guatemala . The 54 murders committed there (54% of the regional total) all occurred in the capital city. No figures exist for the rest of the country – so, once again, this figure represents an under-estimate of the real number of fatalities. The total number of deaths in Guatemala City surpasses the total numbers of murders in Honduras , Nicaragua and Costa Rica combined. Guatemala City is a ferociously dangerous place to live for young people.

Of the 54 murders of children and youth in Guatemala City , 51 were with firearms; two were with knives and one death was by strangulation. Firearms are the principal cause of death in the murders of children in Central America ; small guns are far too easily available and were used in four out of five of the deaths.

In Nicaragua , during July, four children were beaten to death. Nicaragua was also the only country where babies were killed. A three-month-old baby was beaten to death by his father and the death of a baby girl is currently being investigated.

36% of July’s Central American murders of children and youth took place in Honduras . Two girls were murdered,13 boys, one young woman and 20 young men aged between 18 and under 23 (56% of the murders inHonduras ).

Depressingly, not only has the killing become so routine that it is barely worthy of comment, very rarely do the authorities bring the perpetrators to justice. Following July’s sadly not untypical killing spree, 61% of those who carried out the murders in Honduras are still unidentified (22 cases); in 10 cases the suspected author of the crime is a gang member; and a 10 year old school girl was shot to death by a security guard.

The majority of the Honduran murders took place in Tegucigalpa , the capital. Eight others took place in San Pedro  and another eight in the city of Sula . In the main San Pedro jail, a 19-year-old prisoner was murdered, reportedly by a gang member.

Apart from any other consideration of the role of a country’s government in protecting its young people – they are, after all the future of any country –  international law places a duty on national governments to provide protection for prisoners in their care. Yet, detention in Central American prisons seems to represent the death penalty. In one month alone – March of this year – five youth murders took place in Honduran jails alone: three in San Pedro Sula ; one in the Tela jail and one in the main prison of Tamara.

This brings the shocking total of deaths of young people in Honduran prisons to 60 – 23 of whom have been murdered during President Maduro’s administration. 41 of the murders have been attributed to prison guards, the police and military.

One voice that has been consistently raised against this violent slaughter is that of Bruce Harris, Regional Director of Casa Alianza. He says that “It is the State’s responsibility to protect the life of their citizens and they are not fulfilling their responsibility. In simple terms, we demand a stop to the killing of the countries’ present and future – its children”.

London ’s Central American  Ambassadors want us to appreciate the strengths and qualities of their countries. It will be easier to do so when their countries are seen to take that paramount responsibility seriously.