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Youth and Violence

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, children and adolescents living in neighborhoods and communities affected by social exclusion, marginalization and poverty are more exposed to the violence exerted by both criminal groups and repressive citizen security policies. This is particularly evident in Mexico, where the militarization of security has been justified under the “war on drugs” umbrella, leading to an increase in human rights violations and impunity. Mexican law defines children as people between the age of zero and twelve, and adolescents, as people between 12 and less than 18 years old.


According to the Network for the Defense of Children in Mexico (REDIM), every day four children and adolescents are disappeared and 3.6 are killed. The killings of children and adolescents, as well as the gender-based killing of girls, have grown parallel to the overall increase of lethal violence in the country. This organization also reports an estimate of 30,000 children and adolescents enrolled by criminal groups.

On average, 36.54 per cent of people victims of homicide are between 15 and 29 years old, and between 2015 and 2018, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Baja California had the highest number of killings of children.


Adolescents are more vulnerable than adults to coercive recruitment into criminal groups, in a search for identity and as an escape from family violence and deprivation. Many youth from marginalized backgrounds are frequently portrayed as violent and prone to delinquency in media and stigmatized in public discourse.


A  2019 study by the National Commission on Human Rights and the National Autonomous University of Mexico  found that among affected populations, the lives of many children and adolescents are marked by the deaths of relatives, friends and classmates. In their immediate social surroundings, people have been forcedly disappeared and their lives have been precarious and lacking any positive state intervention. The study finds that the Mexican states with the greatest proportion of population under age 18—Chiapas, Guerrero and Veracruz, among others—are also the entities with the lowest levels of education, health and housing.


The combination of social exclusion, violence and lack of institutional response or, worse, the accumulated exposure to violence and discrimination because of repressive state interventions repeat themselves in the life stories of incarcerated adolescents and children with incarcerated parents, particularly in the case of those whose parents have been imprisoned because of drug offences. In the case of adolescents, the National Survey on Adolescents in the Criminal Justice System by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography shows that in 2017 there were 6,891 adolescents in the juvenile criminal justice system in Mexico: 92.2 per cent were boys and 8.2 per cent girls. 76.6 per cent were on remand or sentenced with a non-custodial measure. 25.5 per cent were between 16 and 18 years old, while 59.4 were between 18 and 22 years old. 75.9 had only basic education and 68 per cent had to star working between the age of 10 and 15 years old. The main criminal offences they are accused of are theft, followed by homicide and rape.


In the case of Children with Incarcerated Parents (CIP), estimates from 25 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean refer the existence of between 1,710,980 and 2,307,048 children with at least one parent in prison; of these children, about 359,305 and 484,480 have one of their parents in prison for drug offences.


Children and adolescents’ forced recruitment by organized crime, their brutal deaths, disappearances and incarceration, as well as the impacts of their parents’ imprisonment do not occur in a void: in Mexico, half the underage population lives in poverty, in a country marked by escalating levels of violence and deprivation. Such scenario can only worsen during the current COVID-19 pandemic, both because of the growth of domestic violence, but also as a consequence of the immediate and medium and long term economic effects.


Author: Corina Giacomello

Profesora-investigadora del Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas de la Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas y colaboradora de Equis: Justicia para las Mujeres A.C.

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The Mexico Violence Resource Project is a collaborative effort housed at UC San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.

Contact us at admin@mexicoviolence.org