1. The Problem
Young people are not a homogeneous group in Guatemala´s society. There are huge differences in income levels, opportunities to study and to find appropriate and decent work, access to services, differences in gender equality and in exclusion and discrimination, based on ethnicity.
The lack of opportunities to study and to find appropriate and decent work, affects the majority of young people - and above all young women - living in rural areas, where public and private investment are scarce.
In Guatemala, public education services are mainly concentrated in urban centers. The number of young people from rural areas who complete studies is lower than from urban areas, and those who do finish their studies show serious deficiencies in language and mathematics exams. This translates into lower opportunities for youth from rural areas - including indigenous youth - to access university and decent jobs.
Public and private investment aiming at generating employment for youth is scarce in rural areas, impeding youth to be productive in society and to participate. It is estimated that in Guatemala each year, an average of 140.000 young people join the Economically Active Population (EAP); however, official figures indicate that young people represent 74% of the total unemployed and 55% of the underemployed population.
Youth not only suffer from unemployment, but also from violence from gangs (mara’s) and narco’s in their immediate surroundings. Often, they are victims of crimes from these groups, or they suffer from pressure and intimidation which make young people actually join these groups. Youth between 12 and 25 years old are the most likely to become victims of violence: 50 out of 100,000 youth were killed in the period 2017-2018(1). Young women are especially vulnerable to violence.
Given the lack of opportunities and increased vulnerability, migration to urban centers and especially to the north (United States), becomes one of the few options young people see to move forward and even survive. 77% of the total number of Guatemalans living in the United States are young, between the age of 15 and 34.
Weakened institutions in justice sector
Guatemala is currently going through a weakening of institutions in the justice sector. The last years a climate of impunity arised and the country saw a backward step towards achievement in favor of the rule of law. That’s why civil society organizations had to make efforts to denounce repressive measures, the violation of human rights and the corruption of institutions.
It is of great concern that human rights organizations had to go to the Constitutional Court repeatedly in the last four years, to prevent acts against the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, the Institution of the Attorney of Human Rights. Likewise, actions have been promoted to curb legal initiatives, generated in the Congress of the Republic, which may favor impunity and corruption.
As the rule of law and legal institutions in the country becomes weaker, it is important that youth become politically aware and take action in order to fight for their rights and their future opportunities. This especially counts for the rural areas where labor and human rights violations are frequent and opportunities for youth are scarce.
(1): Report about homicides in Guatemala 2017-2018, Dialogos (Observatory for homicides, funded by the Open Society Foundation)