How Gang Violence Affects Northern Triangle’s Youth

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A recent report details how youths in Central America’s Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) are forced to live under the oppressive threat of gang violence. 

In these nations, decisions like what street to walk on, what clothes to wear and how to style your hair can have fatal consequences, Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported.

“It’s crazy,” 18-year-old Mauricio Cornejo was quoted as saying. “You can’t use certain shoe brands because they’re part of the gang’s style and you might be confused as one of them.”

Like many youths in the Northern Triangle’s urban centers, Cornejo lives in territory disputed by the region’s two most powerful gangs, the MS13 and Barrio 18. People walking down his street could be threatened of killed by either group.

More than half of all of the Northern Triangle’s homicide victims are under 25, according to La Prensa. As a result of this threatening environment, young people in the region often opt to stay in doors.

“You can’t go to the public square or soccer fields because a gang fight could erupt at any moment,” Salvadoran university student Humberto Garcia told La Prensa. 

The limitations violence places on youths extend past their social lives and into their future job prospects. Young people are liable to be denied work by employers who demand proof of a clean criminal history, the report said. 

Even worse, gangs often recruit teens and even children as young as eight years old to join their ranks.

InSight Crime Analysis

This report highlights how youths in the Northern Triangle are affected in both small and profound ways by rampant gang violence. Given the sweeping consequences of crime and violence in the region, it is easy to lose sight of how these security threats are experienced at the personal level.   

Born in Los Angeles, the MS13’s and Barrio 18’s arrival to the Northern Triangle during the 1990s — facilitated by stricter US deportation laws — placed them in the middle of turbulent post-war periods, where law and order was weak. This fertile ground for criminal activity enabled the gangs to flourish, and despite repressive “iron fist” policies targeting the gangs, the Northern Triangle nations are now among the five most violent in all of Latin America. In El Salvador, surging gang violence has resulted in homicide rates unseen since the country’s civil war

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Homicides

The explosion of organized in the Northern Triangle during the post-war period raises questions of how Colombia will transition to peace after over a half-century of armed conflict. In September, the government and Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), announced they will reach a final peace deal by March of next year. But there are concerns organized crime will simply fill the vacuum left in Colombia’s underworld by the departure of the FARC, leading to a recycling of violence and crime. 

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