Street Life: Street Children
by Paul Smith
Over five thousand children live on the streets of Guatemala City. Orphaned, abandoned, or runaways everyday they must hustle to survive; relying on begging or petty theft to 'earn' their existence. In a pathetic attempt to fend off the cold and hunger, and escape their own desperate reality, the children sniff glue and solvents. The little plastic bag containing yellow blobs of Reistol (shoemaker's glue) is a street kids emblem - it is an exception rather than a rule to come across a street kid who doesn't clutch a wrinkled bag in a tight fist - a constant companion and arguably the best friend they have on the street.
The children have more than cold and hunger to concern them though; living on the streets leaves them vulnerable to all kinds of abuse from adults, particularly Guatemala's notorious security forces. Over the past few years many kids have been beaten, tortured, and murdered by the police and clandestine death squads who see the children as little more than vermin to be eradicated, responsible for the city's perpetual crime wave which is an increasing cause for the concern for many Guatemalans.
Guatemala City is becoming more violent, and more children are joining those already on the streets as the country's economic situation worsens. Constantly exposed to this confrontational environment the kids have few defences other than the small degree of safety they can find in numbers. A lone streetchild is not going to last long - eventually someone will see them as a thing which they can use for their own purposes - so the kids band together in gangs, known as Maras, for the protection and companionship they afford. Anything and anyone outside the Mara, coming from the world of adults, will be viewed with suspicion until they have earned and gained the children's trust, Maras are the kid's defence and a means to survive on the hostile streets of the city.