The situation of violence in Mexico and the social and economic marginalization puts thousands of children and adolescents at risk of being recruited by organized crime, as well as bringing them closer to two destinations: jail or death.
This was stated on Tuesday by the National Citizen Observatory (ONC) and the Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico (Redim), which warned that between 145,000 and 250,000 minors are at risk of being recruited by some organized crime group.
Participating in the forum “Adolescent Justice in Mexico”, organized by the National System for the Protection of Children and Adolescents (SIPINNA), the organizations warned that being young in Mexico is dangerous, especially in the absence of public policies to address the general violence in the country.
“The public policies that exist are electoral and reactive,” said Francisco Rivas, director of ONC.
For her part, Tania Ramirez, executive director of Redim, mentioned that the criminalization of child recruitment is urgent because, when minors enter the criminal work networks, one has to start from the premise that they are victims rather than perpetrators.
“Punitive policies, far from rights, and increased penalties for young people are not a solution; the solution lies in resolving the social causes that make children and adolescents see their affiliation to organized crime as the only way to survive,” she said.
Last September, Redim and ONC published the report “Reclutamiento y utilización de niñas, niños y adolescentes por grupos delictivos en México” (“Recruitment and use of children and adolescents by criminal groups in Mexico”) It reports that 22.3% of minors between six and nine years of age stated that they were victims of mistreatment.
The young people are not there voluntarily, they come from a context of violence and have no other way out; yes, it is poverty, but also in some cases, their lives depend on their affiliation to crime”.
The activist emphasized that the recruitment of minors cannot be considered as a type of trafficking or child labor, because this would make the problem even more invisible. “Work is a right, recruitment is a crime,” she said.
Rivas indicated that not only do the big cartels use minors; there are also criminal families, gangs in neighborhoods, and other smaller criminal groups.
“For them, minors are “cannon fodder” that is easily replaced in case they are arrested or killed,” he stated.
He also emphasized that there is not just one type of recruitment: it can range from kidnapping, drug trafficking, or extortion. In other words, minors are not only ‘hawks’, but are trained to participate in all criminal activity.
Rivas stated that in order to protect the sector it is urgent to create an official database on minors recruited (it does not currently exist), as well as to address the general situation of violence in the country and the implementation of specific public policies.
According to another report by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), of the total number of adolescents in detention centers, 35% said they were part of a criminal group, while 27% said they had committed a crime in association with the gang of which they were a member.
The link to a criminal group is, on occasions, the only way for minors to escape from a context of social and economic marginalization”.