By The Numbers

Poverty, conflict and discrimination are putting more than 1.2 billion children – over half of children worldwide – at risk for an early end to their childhood. In fact, many of these at-risk children live in countries facing two or three of these grave threats at the same time. More than 153 million children are at extreme risk of missing out on childhood because they live in countries characterized by all three threats. Children living in poverty face a higher risk of death before age 5, malnutrition that stunts their growth, being out of school, being forced into child labor or early marriage, and giving birth while they are still children themselves. It does not have to be this way. (The Many Faces of Exclusion, End of Childhood Report 2018)

What I saw on my first visits to Guatemala, poverty in its rawest forms and extreme excess, living in close quarters…what I sensed, a desperation comingling with unfounded joy…I tried to fit it into my frame of understanding, in a context that I could process and I couldn’t. Having traveled outside of the walls of the children’s home, deep into the city and parts beyond, I gained a picture of the reality of every one of the children served by Casa Bernabe.

Approximately the size of Tennessee, Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America.  It also has one of the highest inequality rates in Latin America, with some of the worst poverty, malnutrition and maternal-child mortality rates in the region, especially in rural and indigenous areas. Almost 60% of Guatemala’s population, over 10.1 million people, are living in poverty.

Children raised in poverty start life at a big disadvantage. Being poor means more than just not having money – it means material, social and emotional deprivation, as well as impoverished living conditions and less access to services. Poverty creates obstacles to children’s survival, development, protection and participation in decisions that affect their lives. These effects can last a lifetime, and be passed on to the next generation.  

Suffering violence, witnessing violence or fearing violence can cause lifelong disabilities and deep emotional trauma. Separation from family members and economic hardship can expose girls and boys to exploitation in the forms of child labor, child marriage, sexual violence and recruitment into use by armed groups. But the less visible dangers for children in conflict are caused by lack of food and the collapse of essential services such as health care, sanitation and education. The loss of basic necessities required for a fulfilled childhood threatens both the immediate survival and long-term future of children. Guatemalan children are 6.5 times more likely to be murdered than a child in the United States. The most recent numbers show Guatemala to be the 6th worst country in the world in regard to child homicide, the 5 higher ranking countries are also located in Latin America.

Here is what life looks like, by the numbers, for children in Guatemala. These numbers are all based upon Save the Children’s 2018 End of Childhood Report. View the full report.

As a whole, based upon their scoring index that measures the following Childhood Ending Indicators, Guatemala scored a 619, ranking 152 out of 175 countries, giving it the worst score in Latin America. The scores measure the extent to which children in each country experience “childhood enders” such as death, chronic malnutrition, being out of school and being forced into adult roles of work, marriage and motherhood.

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In Guatemala, I have hauled water by hand from the community well for a family because running water is a luxury that hasn’t made it’s way to their village yet. They cooked their meals over an open fire on the ground in their “outdoor kitchen.” Electricity? Nope. School? Maybe for some but not them. Not only do they not have the money to afford “public” school but they need the little bit of income their children can bring in just to survive.

I have stood with a very pregnant, very young woman in a home carved out of it’s surroundings with tarps for walls and a ceiling, in one of Guatemala city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. A single room with a single bed, for herself and her toddler. A judge had challenged her with taking in her niece and nephew, their only hope at a family reconciliation before becoming wards of a very broken state.

I have looked into the eyes of children who carry the weight of trauma, baggage they don’t deserve but will carry for a lifetime. And in this country, this is the norm. This is the reality for the children of Guatemala. Home, for them, is a country where the majority of them are living in crisis.

And now that I know…I can’t sit back and do nothing.