Guatemalan ‘Schoolgirl Assassins’ Arrest Highlights Use of Minors for Crime

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Guatemalan police arrested two teenage girls on suspicion of carrying out a killing for hire, pointing to the use of minors by criminal organizations across the region.

The girls, aged 13 and 15, confessed to shooting a 20-year-old man in Guatemala City, but did not say how they obtained the gun used in the attack, nor who ordered the hit, according to an unnamed National Civil Police spokesperson, cited by EFE.

Police discovered the murder weapon and ammunition in the girls’ bedroom after acting on a tip-off, according to EFE.

The schoolgirls are the latest minors to be arrested in Guatemala over serious crimes in recent weeks. Three weeks ago, a 14-year-old boy was arrested with a mini-Uzi machine gun and accused of extorting businesses in the south of Guatemala City. Two days later, an 11-year-old boy was arrested with a group of men for allegedly murdering a woman and her two daughters.

According to Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez, criminal groups recruit minors because they cannot be prosecuted for criminal offences under Guatemalan law.

InSight Crime Analysis

The use of minors by Guatemala’s organized crime groups is a worrying trend seen across the region. The fact that children can be more easily influenced or threatened into working with gangs, combined with the difficulties in prosecuting them, make children ideal low-cost, low-risk and expendable footsoldiers for street gangs and for larger criminal organizations operating on a local level.

In some countries, like Mexico and Honduras, gangs frequently use children for low-key roles such as acting as lookouts. However, children are also used as assassins, a practice especially prevalent in Colombia, where teenagers are often used as cannon fodder in gang wars such as that currently raging between the Urabeños and the Rastrojos in Valle del Cauca. Colombia’s guerrilla groups, especially the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are also notorious for recruiting minors.

The average age of recruits in Colombia has been tumbling in recent years, according to a 2012 report, a trend that reflects early death or prison sentences shrinking the recruitment pool.

Children are usually recruited from poverty-stricken areas, where there are few opportunities for the young, and gang membership offers money and status that would otherwise be out of reach. 

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