By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, Jan 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new national DNA database and sex offender registry should increase child sex abuse convictions in Guatemala, where such crimes are rarely punished, campaigners and lawmakers said.
Ten cases of child sex abuse are reported every day in the Central America nation, often carried out behind closed doors at the hands of family members or friends, according to Guatemala's human rights ombudsman.
The law passed last month requires people working with children to provide a certificate proving they have no previous convictions of sex crimes, while all employers are required to conduct background checks through a new sex offenders registry.
"We believe this prevents violence from happening in the first place, as perpetrators can be removed from positions of authority in which they could harm more children," said Brad Twedt, director of International Justice Mission (IJM) in Guatemala.
In the few weeks since the law came into effect more than 223,000 certificates have been issued, said IJM, a rights group that campaigned to get the law passed.
The legislation has also exposed more than 30 school teachers and other staff who had been convicted for child sex abuse working at schools across Guatemala, IJM said.
"The sex offender registry is a reflection of the great shift that the government has made in prioritising the protection of children from sexual violence," Twedt told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The registry will collect information on those convicted of sex crimes, including rape, and help authorities keep track of them for five years after their release from prison.
"Sexual violence is still very much a taboo subject, but the government is taking a leading role in changing that with the implementation of this registry," Twedt said.
As part of the law, a DNA database will keep genetic information on people detained on charges of sex crimes, which can help prosecutors better identify and convict offenders.
Congressman Leonel Lira, who spearheaded the law, said it marked a new era in the investigation and prosecution of child abuse and rape.
According to a 2009 report by the U.N. Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), nearly 90 percent of crimes against children go unpunished.
One of the consequences of sexual violence is a high level of teenage pregnancy. Thousands of girls, some as young as 10, get pregnant every year as a result of rape, campaigners say.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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