To evaluate disease characteristics of childhood onset SLE in Latin America and to compare this information with an adult population in the same cohort of GLADEL. A protocol was designed as a multicenter, multinational, inception cohort of lupus patients to evaluate demographic, clinical, laboratory and serological variables, as well as classification criteria, disease activity, organ damage and mortality. Descriptive statistics, chi square, Fisher's exact test, Student's t test and multiple logistic regression were used to compare childhood and adult onset SLE. 230 patients were <18 years and 884 were adult SLE patients. Malar rash, fever, oral ulcers, thrombocytopenia and hemolytic anemia and some neurologic manifestations were more prevalent in children (p<0.05). On the other hand, myalgias, Sjögren's syndrome and cranial nerve involvement were more frequently seen in adults (p<0.05). Afro-Latin-American children had a higher prevalence of fever, thrombocytopenia and hemolytic anemia. White and mestizo children had a higher prevalence of malar rash. Mestizo children had a higher prevalence of cerebrovascular disease and cranial nerve involvement. Children met SLE ACR criteria earlier with higher mean values than adults (p: 0.001). They also had higher disease activity scores (p: 0.01), whereas adults had greater disease damage (p: 0.02). In Latin America, childhood onset SLE seems to be a more severe disease than adults. Some differences can be detected among ethnic groups.