The number of children in El Salvador abandoning school due to gang threats has risen dramatically in recent years, illustrating some of the particular impacts the country’s dire security situation has had on young people.
According to data from the Salvadoran education ministry reported by El Diario de Hoy, the number of children dropping out of school surged threefold from 13,000 in 2014 to 39,000 last year.
Moreover, El Diario de Hoy reports that the official figures may not reflect the full scope of the problem. According to the news outlet, a 2015 study conducted by El Salvador’s national teachers’ union estimated that 100,000 students had dropped out, primarily due to gang threats.
Education minister Carlos Mauricio Canjura acknowledged that security concerns are the main reason students abandon school, adding that the education ministry had hired dozens of psychologists to help students struggling with trauma related to widespread gang violence.
“These are very serious problems that require capabilities that go far beyond the capacities of our teachers,” Canjura said.
By some estimates, gang threats affect 60 percent of Salvadoran schools. But students are not the only members of the educational system affected by gang violence; teachers are frequently threatened and targeted for extortion as well.
For example, a school in the town of Izalco in Sonsonate recently reopened after having been closed for nearly a month due to gang threats. According to El Diario de Hoy, the Sonsonate education department had to hire new employees to replace those who refused to return to work due to fears for their safety.
Although the school has reopened, the threat posed by gangs persists. The day after classes resumed, while students were at recess, a shootout with police outside the school left one suspected gang member dead and another injured.
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In addition to forcing children to abandon school prematurely, the security crisis in El Salvador has had a number of other negative impacts on the country’s youth. Gangs often forcibly recruit children into their ranks, which not only puts young people at heightened risk for physical harm, but also severely limits their ability to pursue future career prospects outside the criminal realm.
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In response, some Salvadoran politicians have proposed adopting a more aggressive law enforcement approach to minors who become involved in criminal activities. However, several educators cited by El Diario de Hoy suggested that investing more resources in the educational system would yield better results in terms of protecting young people and helping them achieve a successful future.