Last Updated 12 November 2019

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. The main religion in Guatemala is Christianity, primarily Roman Catholic. In the census of 2010 there was a significant increase in percentage of atheists or people with no religion.

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. There is no state religion; however, the constitution recognizes explicitly the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church.

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 special regulation.

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.

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, Asociación Guatemalteca de Humanistas Seculares (AGHS), was booed out of the room, having barely been able to put his case, namely that the bill violates the National Education Act and the Act on the Integrity of Children and Adolescents, which ensures that the education in the country should be secular. 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 AGHS. (Mendoza only gained access to the meeting during a protest against the bill outside Congress organized by the Humanist association.) AGHS 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 .”

Family, Community, Society

According to Article 133 of the Penal Code:

“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 65000 induced abortions are performed in Guatemala, of which around 21,600 require hospitalization for complications. 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”.

The Congress of Guatemala has previously approved the “Life and Family Protection” bill, 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 banned.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Press freedom is enshrined in the constitution and newspapers freely criticise the government. Nonetheless, many journalists face intimidation because of their reporting. It was and continues to be dangerous for them to “take too much interest” in organised crime, corruption or human rights violations during the civil war, Reporters Without Borders have reported in recent years including 2014.

Support our work

Donate Button with Credit Cards
whois: Andy White WordPress Theme Developer London