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Education in Guatemala: a scandal of inequality

12-year-old Jacqueline Gonzalez Vicente from Guatemala

12-year-old Jacqueline Gonzalez Vicente from Guatemala

July 2012

Poverty in Guatemala has risen by 2% in the last five years. Like many countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region, a huge inequality exists between urban and rural areas, and indigenous and non-indigenous populations.

However, as our new report highlights, tax reform could provide much-needed funds for education and health.

No money for secondary school

Many indigenous people live in rural areas where infrastructure is poor. Therefore these communities lack access to services such as education and health.

This is reflected in literacy rates:

  • only 36% of rural, indigenous girls are literate

  • and only 14% complete primary school.

Jacqueline is 12. She comes from the indigenous Chortí community in Guatemala's eastern highlands. She is in her final year at primary school and is a good student.

However, Blanca, Jacqueline's mother, says: 'We have no way of sending her to school anymore - we can’t afford the travel costs, and nor can we afford for her to live away.'

Malnutrition and education

'If this child is malnourished from the age of one... [they] won't be able to learn.'

Around 70% of indigenous children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition in Guatemala (compared with 36% of non-indigenous children). This rate is one of the highest in the world.

Malnutrition irreversibly stunts a child's physical and mental growth. Dr Carlos Arriola who works for Christian Aid partner Bethania, says: 'The biggest problem of chronic malnutrition is brain development.

'The development of the brain and intelligence takes place in the first few years of his or her life. If this child is malnourished from the age of one, it is a child who, when they get to school, won't be able to learn.'

A taxing solution

The Guatemalan government spends just 2% of GDP on education, and only 1% of GDP on health. It also provides generous tax exemptions to companies and collects very low taxes from people and businesses. 

Tax reform could provide much-needed funds for education and health. This money could provide children like Jacqueline with a secondary education and ensure that the children in her community are not malnourished.

However, attempts to reform the tax system have been repeatedly blocked by Guatemala's elite.

Report: 'The scandal of inequality'

Christian Aid recently launched a report called 'The scandal of inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean' - identifying the progress that has been made in the region, but also the areas of inequality.

The report urges governments to deliver:

  • High-quality, publicly funded education systems, which ensure that poor families can access all stages of education.

  • Urgent measures to address the unacceptably high levels of chronic malnutrition among children from ethnic groups in countries like Guatemala.

The report implores governments to use their tax systems to achieve these goals.


Download the full report

The scandal of inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean (PDF, 1.7mb)


Tax justice campaign

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Read more

Country profile: Guatemala

Blog: tax justice in Guatemala

Video: coffee, malnutrition and tax


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Related links 

Report:  The scandal of inequality (PDF, 1.7mb)

Issue:  Tax

Country:  Guatemala 

Region:  The Americas

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