Last Updated 7 October 2021

Guatemala, with Mexico on its Northern boundary, is in a pivotal position in Central America. It was the scene of a 36-year guerrilla war until 1996, a peace agreement was signed by the government that finally put an end to the internal conflict. Guatemala is a predominantly Christian – primarily Roman Catholic – country, however there are a significant number of Protestants and Mayas. Most recent census data (2018) did not examine the religious makeup of the country, and therefore there is no official data available on the percentage of non-religious people in Guatemala.

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Constitution and government

The Constitution1; in Spanish: (see Articles 34-36) and other laws and policies generally protect freedom of religion or belief. There is no state religion; however, the Constitution recognizes explicitly the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church (Article 37).

The government requires religious groups other than the Catholic Church to register as legal entities to conduct business, such as renting or purchasing premises and entering into contracts, and to receive tax-exempt status. Non-Catholic religious groups are subject to the same regulation as NGOs or civil associations.

Education and children’s rights

Though education should in principle be secular, there is no national framework for determining the nature or content of religious education, leaving it wide open to interpretation.2/,,,,GTM,,53d90770b,0.html

Article 73 of the Constitution permits the State to subsidize private education centres and mandates that:

“Religious education is optional in the official establishments and can be taught during ordinary hours, without any discrimination.

The State will contribute to the maintenance of religious education without any discrimination.”

In 2015, a proposed new law would require religious teaching in all schools, public or private, to convey a “literal” Biblical interpretation of Christianity. At a public meeting addressing the bill in Congress, Carlos Mendoza, a representative Guatemalan Humanist Association (Humanistas Guatemala), was booed out of the room, having barely been able to put his case, namely that the bill violates the National Education Act3In Spanish: and the Act on the Integrity of Children and Adolescents,4In Spanish: which ensures that the education in the country should be secular (Article 37). The meeting was stacked with religious representatives, with other human rights, secular and sexual equality groups “actively excluded and denied access to the event”, according to Humanistas Guatemala. Humanistas Guatemala said in a statement, “Far from creating unity and positive staff and general reforms, [the bill] could generate intolerance, division, disputes and conflicts between students, teachers, administrators and parents .”The proposal did not pass into

Family, Community, Society

According to Article 133 of the Penal Code:6In Spanish:

“Abortion is the death of the product of conception, at any time during the pregnancy.

It is only permitted when the mother’s life is at risk. Articles 134-140 lay down the prison sentences for women and doctors who seek and perform abortions.

Each year, around 65,000 induced abortions are performed in Guatemala, of which around 21,600 require hospitalization for complications.7 The data shows that half of unintended pregnancies result in a woman attempting an induced abortion.

In February 2017, a ship run by Women on Waves providing abortion pills in international waters was forced to leave the port. The government justified the decision by stating that they were defending “human life and the laws of the country”.8

In February 2017, a ship run by Women on Waves providing abortion pills in international waters was forced to leave the port. The government justified the decision by stating that they were defending “human life and the laws of the country”.

The Congress of Guatemala has previously approved the “Life and Family Protection” bill,9 which needs a third and final approval of each individual article before being sent to the president and signed into law. The bill would modify the Penal Code to criminalize miscarriages and impose prison sentences of up to 10 years on anyone who directly or indirectly “promotes or facilitate means” for women to have abortions. The law also includes a discriminatory definition of “family” and formulates a supposed “right not to accept sexual diversity or gender ideology as normal”. “Teaching sexual conduct that differs from heterosexuality as normal” would also be

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Press freedom is enshrined in the Constitution and newspapers freely criticize the government. However, many journalists face intimidation and attack because of their reporting, particularly when exposing corruption or environmental degradation.11;  Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2021 indicates that:

“Since being sworn in as Guatemala’s president in January 2020, Alejandro Giammattei has adopted a very aggressive rhetoric towards the media, backed by false accusations, verbal attacks and orchestrated public humiliation. Guatemala’s endemic organised crime and corruption and almost total impunity for murders and physical attacks against journalists make reporting extremely difficult and have resulted in widespread self-censorship on many subjects that are sensitive for the authorities. Exposing political corruption can lead to threats, arbitrary detention, intimidation and physical violence. Murders of journalists are still very frequent, and Guatemala continues to be one of the western hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the media.”12

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