Honduran Maras Recruit Children in Kindergarten

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Street gangs such as the MS-13 and Barrio 18 in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula are recruiting kindergartners and forcing transfer requests from teachers fearing for their lives.

Gangs active in San Pedro Sula are reportedly taking school children as young as six into their fold without regard for gender, reported La Prensa. Children and adolescents who refuse to join face the threat of death.

Gilberto Anibal Benitez, the head of education for the province of Cortes, where San Pedro is located, pointed to the murder of 16-year-old Belinda Guevara as evidence of this. Guevara was last seen being dragged away from school by two other students and an older man. Her body was found days later.

San Pedro Sula teachers have also been caught in the violence, La Prensa reported. One teacher requested a transfer after she’d been made to pay 300 lempiras ($15) each week in extortion money to the gangs.  

“Please get me out of here. If not, they’ll kill me,” she pleaded.

Gang members also reportedly leave crosses and sketches of AK-47s inscribed on school desks and on teachers’ cars.

“On our way into school, they pointed AK-47s at our heads and told us to lie face down as they stripped us of our belongings,” one teacher said.

InSight Crime Analysis

Street gangs such as the MS-13 and the Barrio 18 are at the heart of much of the violence that has made Honduras the most dangerous place on the planet that is not at war. Children provide low-cost labor for these gangs. Those who join tend to have weak family ties, meaning gangs can prey on the youth’s desire for a support network.

Child recruitment is pronounced in many places in Honduras. Ninety-one percent of teachers surveyed by United Nations officials in five Tegucigalpa secondary schools reported gang violence and harassment as a major problem. And according to figures from the National Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DNIC), up to one in ten Honduran students could be gang members; up to 40 percent may “sympathize” with the gangs.

Child soldiers are used throughout the world. Though some of the young recruits join criminal groups because of threats, still others come willingly due to the benefits offered to them, according to a recent International Crisis Group report (see pdf here). The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), for instance, offers children food and education in return for signing up. Once recruited, the kids may be used as look-outs and even as young assassins.

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