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EDITORS: This story was written by Jane Bahk, a news writing intern at the Stanford News Service. Crimes against Guatemalan children detailed in lecture
STANFORD -- "If four policemen kicked a 13-year-old to death here in Palo Alto, there would be tremendous scandal [but] in Guatemala, it would be just one more body found on the street," Bruce Harris, children's rights activist, said in a lecture at Stanford, Monday, Nov. 2.
Harris is the executive director of Latin American Programs for Covenant House, one of the largest privately funded and operated U.S. childcare agencies. In his talk, "They Shoot Children, Don't They?" sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies, Harris described abuse of street children by Guatemalan security forces.
Many children are being tortured and killed on a regular basis, Harris said. One group of children, he said, had been burned and had their eyes gouged out, before being shot to death.
Guatemalan police ignore such crimes, he said, often because they are the perpetrators.
"We get all the evidence and we present it to the police," Harris said. "They don't do anything because they don't like to arrest their own. It's very frustrating."
Guatemala was the sixth country to ratify the United Nations' recent declaration of the rights of a child, Harris said, "But I don't think that they read it."
Harris said that he believes the security forces "don't see them as children, but as vermin. They pick pockets and are an annoyance to the police. There's also added pressure from the tourists, who don't like to step over them."
The children can and do seek refuge at Covenant House, which provides food, medical care, counseling, skills training and other services. The house in Guatemala City can shelter up to 525 children, Harris said, but there are more than 5,000 children living on the streets.
Harris said that the house has been shot at, and that a staff member had been killed by a treasury policeman. He described his staff as being "very scared, because people are using us as a target - just because we're trying to protect the children."
Harris urged the audience to do two things: write letters to Jorge Serrano Elias, the president of Guatemala, and join Amnesty International.
A member of the audience, sophomore Johanna Lasker, is the coordinator of Amnesty International USA at Stanford. After the talk, she said Harris "reassured me that letter-writing is very valuable in helping these children. He gave me faith in what we're doing."
While applying that kind of pressure does seem to work, Harris said, "it is also the saddest part of all. It's only the international pressure that makes the government take action, and not because they love their children."
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