Speed up progress for Guatemala’s children or risk a generation, says UNICEF

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GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala, 22 March 2013 - Children belong in loving families and communities and not in institutions, no matter how well run, said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, on his visit to Guatemala.

An estimated 5,800 children are currently in temporary children’s homes in Guatemala with little or no access to their families or alternative care. Many are victims of violence and abuse and are left in limbo awaiting justice.

After visiting one of the institutions, Lake said: “All children need the love and nurturing only a family can give no matter how good and caring the institution. And while it’s encouraging to see the signs of progress in both nutrition and protection, if we fail to sustain it, we leave a generation at risk.” He added: “We cannot let the immensity of the problems discourage us from making progress – nor let the progress create complacency. We must accelerate it.”

Encouraging signs of progress include establishing Special Courts to hear cases of violence and abuse against children in high crime regions; and more children are leaving institutions and being reunited with their families. There is greater agreement to resolve adoption cases with clear targets and to prevent children being institutionalized.

During his visit on a trip to Totonicapán, outside Guatemala City, Lake witnessed efforts to fight malnutrition at community level. Despite being a middle-income country, Guatemala has the sixth highest malnutrition rates in the world with 49 per cent of children under five chronically malnourished or stunted.

“Food alone is not a guarantee to being well nourished,” said Mr. Lake who is also chair of the Scaling-Up-Nutrition, SUN movement. “Good nutrition lies at the heart of progress. Simple, cost-effective packages like breastfeeding, micro-nutrients and hand-washing can unleash the potential of children to learn and earn and for a nation to succeed.”

In his meeting with the President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, the Executive Director praised the Government’s initiative to reduce stunting or chronic under nutrition by 10 per cent over the next four years to 39 per cent by 2015. He said UNICEF would support Guatemala’s efforts to accelerate progress in cutting stunting and build robust child protection systems.

### About UNICEF

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:

For further information, please contact:

Parisa Nabili, Communication Chief, UNICEF Guatemala; Tel: +502 2327-6311;

Sarah Crowe, Spokesperson for the Executive Director, UNICEF New York; Mobile: +1 646 209 1590;