General information on Guatemala

Guatemala struggles to resolve the memory of its past civil conflict while facing challenges like widespread poverty, child malnutrition and violence. Weak institutions and insufficient government investment in education, health and social programmes make it difficult for children, young people and families to get the support they need.
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A growing population served by weak institutions

Children at play - photo: S. Preisch
Children who have lost parental care can find a new home in an SOS Children's Village (photo: SOS archives).
Guatemala is home to about 16 million people, making it the most populous country in Central America. It also has the highest birth rate in Latin America, and the youngest population; nearly half of Guatemalans are under the age of 19. This youth, combined with a high birth rate, means that its population will most likely continue to grow.

During the second half of the 20th century, Guatemala was governed by a series of military and civilian governments and experienced a 36-year civil war. During the conflict more than 200,000 people were killed, and, according to some estimates, nearly one million fled as refugees. A peace accord was signed in 1996, but bringing individuals responsible for crimes during the war to justice has been a slow process.

In 2015, the people of Guatemala called for changes in the government due to the high levels of corruption. Corruption had been present up to the highest levels of the ruling administration. In spite of recent efforts, its effects continue to be felt in Guatemala's weak institutions, powerful organised crime networks and pervasive violence.

Low public investment and high inequality

Guatemala has one of the largest economies in Central America, but only a small amount of money is spent on public services. It is one of the most violent countries in Central America, and in addition to creating an environment of fear and insecurity, the high rate of violence and crime generates huge economic costs. Insufficient resources are spent on strengthening institutions, like the court system, and offering support to vulnerable groups, like women and children affected by poverty and violence.

Inequality remains a major problem. Nearly 60 percent of the population – or about nine million people - live below the poverty line, while about 23 percent - or roughly 3.7 million people - live in extreme poverty, meaning they live on less than two dollars a day. Indigenous communities, which make up 44 percent of the national population, are disproportionately affected. Almost 80 percent of indigenous people in Guatemala live in poverty, and many rural areas lack access to water and proper sanitation facilities.

Children are in need of support and protection

Gymnastics - photo: Sophie Preisch
Children in our care grow up with their brothers and sisters (Photo: SOS archives).