At least 30,000 children in Mexico are involved in some sort of organized crime, according to a nationwide alliance of civic and social organizations.
The Child Rights Network in Mexico says many of these children are taking part because of death threats or because of economic and social necessity. It is urging the government to start recognizing them as victims of child abuse.
“The drug cartels are not training them to be ringleaders,” spokeswoman Veronica Morales said. “It is a new form of abuse in which they are being used to commit an offense, to violate the law and to deceive authorities.”
In the past year, there have been numerous headlines of children being arrested in Mexico.
Perhaps the most high-profile case involved a 14-year-old boy known as “El Ponchis” (“The Cloak”). He was found guilty of torturing and beheading at least four people for the South Pacific drug cartel.
While the Child Rights Network in Mexico said it has documented at least 30,000 kids involved in some criminal group, the Mexican government said it has not. According to the Agence Presse-France, the government told the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child that it doesn’t have information about minors involved in criminal or armed groups.
The Child Rights Network in Mexico said it is common for many child suspects—like the 14-year-old assassin and the 15-year-old boy in Jiutepec—to be presented to the media without respect for their privacy or their presumption of innocence.
Arturo Argente, director of the law faculty at the Monterrey Institute of Technology of Higher Education (Toluca Campus), agrees that Mexican authorities must protect a child’s identity and guarantee that a process will follow “from a child-abuse angle, as a kid who has been working at an illegal business.” In addition to that, he said, the children must receive psychological treatment and be taught to respect the law.
In the past five years, from December 2006 to December 2011, at least 1,188 children have died because of armed clashes, according to the Child Rights Network in Mexico. That represents about 2.5% of the estimated 47,515 drug-related deaths over the last five years reported by Mexican authorities.