death squads target street kids: Guatamalan "social cleansing"

Tom Boland (
Mon, 16 Feb 1998 07:52:06 -0800 (PST)

FWD from CNN World News, February 14, 1998


>From Correspondent Chris Kline

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (CNN) -- The thousands of street urchins who
inhabit Guatemala City do what they can to scrape by -- begging, selling
bananas for a few pennies, salvaging what they can from the garbage dump.
Some join gangs and turn to crime.

Most of them are homeless, sleeping on sidewalks or by an abandoned train
station. To curb their desperation and hunger, many have become inhalant
addicts, sniffing industrial solvents that almost certainly cause brain

They call it 'social cleansing'

But these street kids also face another menace -- death squads practicing
what is referred to in Guatemala as "social cleansing."

"There are certain groups in society, including security forces, who feel
that by torturing, kidnapping and murdering them, they'll teach the others
a lesson to leave the street," says Hector Godinez, who heads the legal
office at Casa Alianza, one of a handful of children's shelters in the

As proof, Godinez keeps a gruesome photo archive, to illustrate the
children's often shocking injuries -- and to remember the dead.

Few prosecutions for crimes against children

Although the police still figure in many of the atrocities, Godinez
attributes a new wave of violence against street children to private
security guards, hired by business owners who see the kids as a menace.

Even the Guatemalan government concedes that police officers and private
guards are seldom prosecuted for crimes against children.

"Perhaps the justice system lacks the resources or the investigative
capabilities to identify those responsible, find the proof and sentence
them," says Carmela Curup of the Guatemalan Office for Juvenile Affairs.

Trying to provide a better future

The government does not run a single youth shelter in Guatemala. Only Casa
Alianza and the small number of other private shelters try to provide a
better future for the small number of children they can rescue.

Children arrive at Casa Alianza filthy and suffering from disease. They are
cured of infections, and their wounds are tended. Often malnourished, they
are fed back to health.

In a society where many poor people never break the bonds of poverty, the
street children of Guatemala City are perhaps the most forgotten of all.


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