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Guatemalan Congress suspends Implementation of Children and Juvenile Code.

Casa Alianza
Oct. 4, 1997

In a sad and surprising move, the Guatemalan Congress yesterday
suspended for the second time, the implementation of the Children and
Juvenile Code that would benefit 54% of the population of Guatemala
who are children.

Guatemala was the 6th country in the world to ratify the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child and, as a result, must adjust its internal
laws to reflect the minimum requirements of the Convention. Currently
the children of Guatemala are "objects" of  a repressive Children's
Code established in 1969.

In September 1996, the Guatemalan Congress approved the new Children
and Juvenile Code but postponed it's implementation for a 12 month
period, until September 27th, 1997. The reasoning was to give the
judicial authorities time to train and prepare judges and a new and
innovative juvenile justice system. They did neither.

In August 1997, the President of the Supreme Court requested yet
another delay in the implementation of the new code, arguing again
that the judges were not trained and that there was no funding
available (despite more than US$ 2 million already having been given
by international agencies and the year they had to train the judges!).
There was a tremendous rejection of this idea by both local and
international child support agencies. The funding argument was
dismissed as UNICEF and others have offered to fund any deficiencies.

After many meetings between organizations, Congressional
representatives and the government, it was decided that the code would
enter into effect in three stages on September 27th, 1997; January
1st, 1998 and March 27th, 1998.

In a distasteful betrayal, on September 25th, 1997, the ruling party
PAN (with a majority in Congress) voted to delay the total
implementation of the new code until at least March 27th, 1998. The
only person who can change this position is President Alvaro Arzu -
also a member of PAN - with a Presidential veto.

Under the present code, children can be indefinitely locked up  "for
their own benefit" in dangerous, repressive, ill-equipped government
juvenile detention centers where the use of torture and beatings has
been documented. They have no right to a defense lawyer nor
independent appeals. The new Children and Juvenile Code changes all
this and makes the child a "subject" of law, with a right to legal
defense and to participate in legal proceedings that affect him or
her. UNICEF describes the new code as one of the best in Latin


Please send a short, polite message to President Alvaro Arzu,
requesting that he veto Decree 84-97, which allows for the postponing
of the implementation of the new Children and Juvenile Code to March
27th, 1998.

I know you are busy with many things to do, but PLEASE take a moment
to help 5 million children in Guatemala to at least have the luxury of
a law that respects and truly protects them from the abuses in that

Please note the country from which you write and send to:

         Alvaro Arzu, President of Guatemala
            Guatemalan government's human rights

With copies to the following media:


Guatemalan Embassies   

And a copy to   ON BEHALF OF THE 

The Human Rights Actions Network

Human Rights in Guatemala

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