Currently Guatemala has an important demographic bonus. There are four children and adolescents for every ten inhabitants, but a transition process is under way, and in ten years the projection is that the figure will be reduced to three.
The change will be more noticeable in some regions of the country. In Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepéquez, currently 27 percent of the population is under 18, while in Santa Lucía la Reforma, Totonicapán, it is 51.4 percent. These are disparities that are also reflected in the development conditions in which children live in the different territories.
The five municipalities with the highest Childhood and Adolescence Well-being Index in the country are San Bartolomé Milpas Altas (Sacatepéquez), Guatemala (Guatemala), Mixco (Guatemala), Jocotenango (Sacatepéquez) and San Miguel Petapa (Guatemala), in that order . When the country value is 4.2, they are above that indicator.
At the other extreme are Senahú and Chisec, both in Alta Verapaz, Santa Bárbara (Huehuetenango), Santa María Chiquimula (Totonicapán) and San Mateo Ixtatán (Huehuetenango), which has a much lower index.
This measurement allows identifying the places in which children experience the greatest and least deprivations, it is calculated through indicators that measure different dimensions of development: gender, education, protection, participation, wealth, water, sanitation and hygiene, and health.
The National Atlas of the Situation of Children and Adolescents, developed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) gathers this information and shows the condition of this population in the 340 municipalities of the country. The data is based on the 2018 Population Census.
According to Carlos Carrera, UNICEF representative for Guatemala, in each municipality there are children with needs, but this report allows us to know where the concentration of problems is greatest.
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For example, if we talk about education, it is the northern and northwestern region of the country that has the lowest levels of years of schooling in 17-year-old adolescents. Whereas, if the issue of children living on the street or in collective residence is addressed, the metropolitan area has the highest indicator.
However, they are the territories with the most rural population where conditions are lower for children.
“Perhaps one of the most important findings of this Atlas is how deep the inequality is in Guatemala, the inequality is great, it is a problem that the country must consider,” says Carrera.
From that account, he adds that at the central government level, investment in municipalities that have the worst well-being index for children should be prioritized, but also local governments should seek strategies that lead to improving conditions for their child population, and the A document prepared by Unicef can be an instrument that helps to establish in which areas to allocate more resources.
“The evidence shows that countries with higher inequalities grow less economically. This should lead to prioritization of all investments to those families, those municipalities with the worst living conditions for children ”, he says.
The investment should not take long, since it must take advantage of the demographic bonus that exists in Guatemala, which occurs “once in the history of each country.” This requires more resources from the State, for which a tax reform that increases the amount of income obtained by the country must be discussed, the interviewee mentions.
San Bartolomé Milpas Altas, in Sacatepéquez, is the municipality with the highest Child and Adolescent Well-being Index in the country, with 5.7. While San Mateo Ixtatán, Huehuetenango has the lowest, which is 2.91. Both have the same number of children, a total of 18,499.
In the first municipality, 18.7 percent of the homes where there are children and adolescents are overcrowded – there are more than three members per bedroom. In the second, the number of homes in that condition rises to 60.9 percent.
This data is relevant because studies indicate that in overcrowded homes the risk of minors suffering from domestic violence increases. In addition, the possibility of transmission of diseases, such as the coronavirus, increases.
In San Bartolomé Milpas Altas, 44.4 percent of the dwellings have cement cake as a floor. While in San Mateo Ixtatán 55.8 percent of the houses where there are children the floor is made of dirt, which is a problem, since it tends to accumulate dirt, such as germs and bacteria.
According to the UNICEF report, the floor material of the houses is important for the health of children, those that are easy to clean allow better hygiene and that reduces the incidence of infectious diseases.
In the municipality of Sacatepéquez, 95.1 percent of the population older than six years can read and write, 87.1 percent attend school, which reduces the risk of child labor and adolescent pregnancy. The years of schooling in adolescents of 17 years is on average 7.8.
But in the municipality of Huehuetenango the reality is different: 65.8 percent of children can read, only 51.6 percent attend school, and the years of schooling are reduced to 5.
One of the main indicators of development of a territory is childhood mortality, since many deaths at this stage of life can be prevented by having access to pre and post natal care. But this is another sign of inequality between populations.
It is estimated that San Bartolomé Milpas Altas has a mortality rate in children under five years of 30.6 per thousand live births. In San Mateo Ixtatán this amounts to 80.9.
Another data that is important to mention is the child population that works, and in the first municipality it is 5.7 percent, while in the second the percentage increases to 12.7.