Between 145,000 and 250,000 young people are at risk of being recruited into organized crime, according to a study by two civil society organizations.
The study, titled “Recruitment and use of girls, boys and adolescents by criminal groups in Mexico,” warns that risks are caused by structural and social conditions that have been overlooked by the state, which are then exploited by family members and gangs.
Poverty, abandonment, lack of opportunities, family violence, social surroundings or proximity to areas with the presence of criminal groups are among the main corollary factors, it said, and children that do not attend school are at heightened risk.
“The involvement of children and adolescents is an ‘excellent investment’ for criminal groups: the constant need to want to belong to a group. The constant desire for danger, to feel adrenaline and power, drugs, weapons, cars and other luxuries are what make these adolescents want to remain in these criminal groups,” the study said.
It added that young people are of great value to criminal organizations as any illegal activities will only lead to cursory punishments in the justice system, and that a gang’s ability to provide children with protection and to offer a substitute or equivalent to a family was appealing to them.
The study also detailed the geographical areas of risk: 55% of the at-risk population can be found in seven states: México (9.7%), Jalisco (8.6%), Chiapas (8.1%), Puebla (7.8%), Guanajuato (7.3%), Veracruz (7.2%) and Michoacán (6.5%).
Puebla and Michoacán are the states with the highest proportion of children at risk.
In terms of gender, recruits are treated differently: girls may be sexually exploited, while boys are more likely to be put into dangerous situations. “Cases have been reported in which girls are treated as ‘sex slaves’ as the women of the leaders and … are even forced to have abortions or forced pregnancies,” the study said.
It said boys often perform tasks as informants and acquire greater responsibilities and are promoted to riskier tasks such as moving illegal goods or guarding safe houses, and are sometimes forced to participate in armed conflicts that put their lives at risk.
The study concluded that government authorities do not have their data in order, a prerequisite to tackling the problem. “The state does not systematize the data related to the phenomenon and its characteristics and does not take advantage of or cross-feed information with the justice system for adolescents. That information, while not giving an estimate of the size of the problem … provides elements to approximate it.”
The study was carried out by the National Citizens’ Observatory of Security, Justice and Legality (ONC) and the Network for Children’s Rights in Mexico (REDIM).
With reports from El Economista