A child assassin arrested in Mexico in 2012

The Mexican government is to accept its responsibilities towards children recruited by criminal gangs and other non-state armed actors, reversing a long-standing objection to a United Nations resolution.

The UN's Optional Protocol on the rights of children in armed conflict calls on governments to recognize recruitment of minors into armed groups as illegal and accept their obligation to "adopt all possible measures to prevent this recruitment and utilization." At the time, Mexico subscribed to the resolution, but with the objection -- or "interpretative declaration" -- that the responsibility for child recruitment by non-state armed groups "lies solely with such groups" and not with the Mexican government.

After 12 years of maintaining this position, in February 2013 Mexico’s Senate reversed the decision, stating that "the Mexican state is judicially obligated to comply with the protocol."

The decision represents a turnaround from last year, when in a report to the UN Committee on Children’s Rights, the state claimed there was no child recruitment in Mexico by armed groups, as the country was not in an armed conflict -- going against the committee's perspective, which included organized crime in its definition of non-state armed actors.

InSight Crime Analysis

By reversing its position towards the UN protocol, this arguably represents the beginning of renewed commitment from Mexico to battle child recruitment by criminal gangs. This could increase pressure on the government to better track the problem and develop demobilization and reinsertion programs for minors. 

The Network for Children’s Rights (Red por los Derechos de la Infancia) -- a civil society organization that works with child recruits -- said that between 20,000 and 30,000 Mexican children and adolescents are exploited by and directly benefit drug trafficking organizations, reported Animal Politico.

Recruitment of children by drug trafficking organizations and gangs in Mexico is well-documented, with children between the ages of 11 to 17 commonly used to carry out drug trafficking and surveillance operations. The testimony of a 12-year-old in early February also highlighted the use of children as hired assassins by Mexican gangs.

Children are viewed as attractive recruits by criminal groups as they are more difficult to prosecute or sanction. As a result, the phenomenon has become a region-wide problem, and is rife in countries like Colombia and Guatemala.