Pag. 25 Photo – Ingmar Zahorsky

10 years of the Alba-Keneth Alert … and childhood in Guatemala remains unprotected

By: María Recinos

On the 17th of January 2021, Hillary Saraí Arredondo de León, only 3 years of age, was reposted missing. One day later, her body was discovered half-buried, without clothes and showing signs of sexual abuse. Just a few weeks later on the 10th of February, the body of Sharon Figueroa Arriaza, an 8-year-old, was found. She had disappeared a day previously whilst playing on her bicycle at the back of her house, in the department of Petén. She was strangled and beaten. 

In the case of Hillary, the National Civil Police (PNC) arrested a man whom they accused of this atrocious crime. Two days later, it was announced that as many as three men could be involved. In the meantime, the Public Ministry (MP) requested that the case be put on reserve, and the Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDH) opened an inquiry into the response of the authorities in response to the murder of a minor. In Sharon’s case, the police arrested a woman and her son as the potential perpetrators of the murder. Both girls were reported missing under the Alba-Keneth alert system, which allows children to be reported as missing before 24 hours have passed since their disappearance. 

The Alba-Keneth Alert System Law was created by the Congress of the Republic in 2010, thanks to the efforts of the parents of Alba Michelle Díaz, who disappeared on the 14th of June 2007 – her body was found showing evidence of violence – and the parents of Kenneth Alexis López, a 4-year-old who disappeared on the 16th of December 2009 and was discovered buried under the patio of a neighbour. Those responsible for these crimes were women, who faced trial and were sentenced to prison for the kidnapping and murder of the children. 

Photo: Flickb AmslerPIX

Despite the creation of this law, history is repeating itself with the persistent murders of boys and girls year upon year. According to the Alba-Keneth Alert System Unit, between the 11th and the 24th of February 2021, 141 alerts were activated because of the disappearances of boys, girls, and adolescents within the country. At the end of February, 86 of these alerts remained active. The proportion of female minors who disappear is shocking: for every ten times the alert is activated, seven of these are cases of missing girls or female adolescents. 

How many Alba-Keneth Alerts must be activated before the state prioritises the safety of children? How much more violence must children suffer and how much pain must some Guatemalan families feel before society responds to this problem? (And not just on social media). We demand that the system for the protection of children and adolescents is strengthened and that those who committed these crimes are justly punished. As Guatemalans, we must demand that the authorities and responsible agencies act as soon as possible when an alert is activated. We know that the work and effort they undertake is of the utmost importance for the swift locating of a missing person, but efficient and effective coordination of all parties involved is needed not just to resolve cases, but to prevent them.  

Non-profit organisations working to protect and safeguard the rights and safety of children should not lose faith that there is a better world for children. The work is hard, and the transformation is ongoing. We are aware that the Guatemalan System needs serious change, as well as honest minds, so that children and adolescents can grow up safely and with opportunities. To the communities, to the cities, and to you, reader, we are calling you to make an effort and organise yourselves so that future tragedies can be avoided, to protect the integrity of childhood and denounce all types of violence against children and adolescents.

Cover photo: Ingmar Zahorsky