Guatemala (MNN) — After visiting children in Guatemala, UNICEF Ambassador Michael Sheen reported the country is one of the worst places in the world for kids to live.
“Guatemala, right now, has the second-highest murder rate of children in the world–second only behind El Salvador,” says Amy Norton of Orphan Outreach.
“The situation that we’ve seen, as well as what this [UN] Ambassador saw, is just so many cases of children gone missing, children being trafficked, children being abused, and then also children who are kidnapped for ransom.”
Child Abuse in Guatemala
Sheen reported several horrific stories he’d been told by town members.
One four-year-old boy named Keneth went missing in 2009. His body was found decapitated a week later. Two women had intentions of selling him for $1,250, but instead, murdered the infant.
Three sisters, Wendy, Heidy, and Diana, were murdered on their way to school, and their bodies were thrown into a ditch. They had been beaten so brutally, they were nearly unrecognizable.
And, at three years old, a girl named Luisa was raped by several men and died from her injuries.
In the first two months of 2015, nearly 900 kids went missing in the country, and 22 cases of sexual abuse are reported on a daily basis.
“Many children have been abused, have been violently attacked in different ways due to the culture there. They had civil war for 36 years in Guatemala, and it was a very very violent civil war that many people know about.”
Norton also adds that if someone is thought to have raped or abused a child, town members would attack him or her without a trial. Even though they may think they’re addressing the issue, they’re addressing it with violence that children are seeing or experiencing.
“Sadly, it’s just permeated the culture and has affected the way even children are cared for in Guatemala,” Norton says.
“It seems like it’s increasingly worse. Most of the children we serve in the orphanage, as well as in really poor families, have had violence in their homes or abuse. A majority have been abused themselves.”
Sheen reported the story of Jennifer, who was killed by her mother for eating food she wasn’t supposed to. She was three years old.
Everywhere kids turn in Guatemala, they’re being affected by violence, whether that’s at home or on the street.
“It’s a huge battle to fight, and I know the country of Guatemala really wants to do something; but the statistics are very concerning. So many young girls, even when they get out of the orphanage, will find out that they end up pregnant very quickly, as soon as they leave the orphanage.”
What’s Being Done?
“[The government has] been making some changes,” Norton explains.
“When kids go missing now, they begin–like we have amber alerts: they begin looking for kids within the first hour. It used to be actually several days. They are trying to do more, as a government, to address this issue, but they have a long way to go.”
Orphan Outreach is helping to decrease the overwhelming issue.
“We work not only in the orphanages and in schools, but also in communities. They have been very receptive and certainly very open to hearing the Gospel shared.”
But, it’s proven to be a little trickier to share the Gospel than in some countries. Because of the Mayan background, voodoo and dark magic is often accepted, making it harder to share that there’s only one true God and that He wants the community to alter their lives.
Nevertheless, Orphan Outreach is persisting through mission trips.
“The importance has really been ministering to these young girls who have been abused, especially by family members,” Norton says.
On a recent Orphan Outreach mission trip, male team members focused on ministry to boys in order to help them understand “who they are as men of God and how they are called on to be men of God and to break that vicious cycle of violence and abuse, and to learn and to respect what Christ calls us to do,” says Norton.
Will you take the challenge of sharing the Gospel and love of Jesus? Orphan Outreach has plenty of opportunities for you to help suffering children in Guatemala. Their next mission trip is in October.