12-Year-Old ‘Assassin’: Youth Involvement in Mexico’s Conflict

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A Mexican boy, speaking at a community tribunal, recounted his gang experience in the country’s Guerrero state, just one example of Mexican youth’s vulnerability to involvement in violent organized crime.

Speaking at a February 1 tribunal in which 54 people accused of involvement in organized crime were tried by community members, a 12-year-old youth spoke about the childhood in which he was trained as an assassin by local gangs in the state capital Chilpancingo, La Jornada reported

The boy, whose grandmother reportedly turned him over to community police, told an audience of over 1,000 people that he had witnessed these gangs torture and kill their victims, cutting off fingers, toes, limbs, and heads. He said he was initially attracted to the promise of easy money, but after witnessing the gangs’ disturbing tactics, wished to end his involvement. 

The extra-judicial tribunal was organized by 69 communities in the “Costa Chica” area of Guerrero, on Mexico’s south Pacific coast, following the arrest of the suspects by the area’s controversial self-defense forces in early January, reported Zocallo Saltillo

InSight Crime Analysis

Mexico’s youth represent a large number of the country’s unemployed and have high levels of involvement in the violence. These so-called “Ni-nis” are often targeted by drug trafficking organizations, who attract them with the allure of incomes substantially higher than the national average. 

In a recent study by the think-tank Flacso, a survey of approximately 1,400 youth across eight states – including Guerrero – found that on average 26.3 percent of high school interviewees thought their friends most aspired to be drug traffickers or hired assassins, El Universal reported in mid-January. This was the most common answer among professions including businessmen, police, military, and government officials. Specialists who performed the study attributed the results to the allure of wealth and power that youths associate with drug traffickers, as well as the proximity of gangs in some cities.

Although Guerrero is one of just five Mexican states to have established social programs to tackle youth unemployment, it has also become one of the most violent states in the country. In fall 2012, Guerrero had Mexico’s highest number of organized crime related homicides, reflecting a shift that has seen the conflict move from traditional border regions to other areas of the country, attributed in part to an increase in gangs that have splintered from the country’s big cartels in recent years. Guerrero is the site of conflict between several of these groups.

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