Capitalizing on Guatemalan laws shielding minors from criminal prosecution, organized crime gangs are training kids between 10 and 12 in the use of firearms and techniques for carrying out attacks and thus turning them into "child hit men."
"There are no official figures, but the cases are there for all to see," a police officer told Efe.
Police security cameras captured footage Tuesday of a boy of around 10 pulling out an automatic pistol and shooting a taxi driver twice in the head on this capital's north side.
That same footage shows the minor subsequently hiding the weapon under his clothes and, seemingly unfazed, boarding a bus and fleeing the scene as several stunned witnesses looked on.
Efe made repeated attempts to obtain a statement from the Interior Ministry about the crime but the calls went unanswered.
The police officer, however, said on condition of anonymity that "little" is being done to prevent children from being recruited by criminal gangs.
The legal provisions that exempt minors from prosecution for homicide permit criminal outfits to "act with impunity," Rodolfo Diaz - an attorney with the Survivors' Foundation, which counsels victims of violence - told Efe.
That foundation is assisting in the prosecution of a 22-year-old man accused of employing two minors in the Feb. 3 murder of a woman and her two young children.
"The 11-year-old (hit man) put the pistol to the neck of the 3-year-old girl and fired. The other minor (who is 17) killed the woman and the other girl" while the adult looked on, Diaz said.
Police arrested three suspects in the triple homicide with unusual swiftness and prosecutors initiated criminal proceedings against the adult and the adolescent, while the 11-year-old boy has been housed at a shelter as a "protected witness."
Last weekend, two "hit girls" were arrested and confessed to murdering a man.
The unidentified girls, ages 13 and 15, were arrested Saturday in northwest Guatemala City and told investigators they murdered a 20-year-old man a day earlier.
"The girls confessed that they committed the murder, but they did not say where they got the weapon or who ordered them to kill this person," a police spokesman said. EFE