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Children caught in drug-trafficking crossfire
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Study finds children are recruited by organized crime — and the army.

More than 30,000 children and teenagers have been recruited by drug-traffickers from 2006 to 2010, according to a new study.

The young recruits are tasked with drug-running, kidnapping, extortion and even murder, said the study “Children and Armed Conflict in México,” by the Network for Children´s Rights in México, an umbrella group of 63 Mexican organizations.
Since President Felipe Calderón sent the military and federal police to tackle drug trafficking in 2006, 994 minors have been killed in drug-related violence and 3,664 are in jail for alleged crimes tied to organized criminal groups.

“When the lack of life alternatives is combined with easy access to drugs and weapons and a violent neighborhood, joining an armed group is a tempting option,” said the report. “Significantly, children often describe it as the only feasible option, at a given moment. Crime provides these children with compensation, recognition and money that cannot be obtained through lawful means. In fact, among the main reasons cited by children involved in narco-trafficking, there are: poverty and social exclusion, ill treatment, desire for consumer goods, easy money and a high social status, need for friendship and surrogate families; search for identity and protection from physical harm or death; desire for revenge.”

According to Juan Martín Pérez García, director of the umbrella group, the criminal groups use three methods to lure minors: money, family ties and extortion. In rural areas, children and adolescents are threatened or kidnapped and forced to get involved, while in urban areas, more youths make the choice more freely, he said.

“We have to emphasize that the children and adolescents that join these criminal groups should not be considered simply law-breakers, but we must also understand that these children are victims of economic exploitation by organized crime,” said Pérez García, when the report was released on Jan. 26.

But it is not just cartels that recruit minors. The army enlists citizens under the age of 18 “in exchange for benefits for those who enter military academies and schools,” said Miguel Concha Malo, a priest and director of the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Center, adding that most of these recruits are campesinos or live in low-income neighborhoods.

The report includes a recommendation to create a children´s rights ombudsman office that would be tasked with investigating these violations.

The study was presented to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in Geneva, as an alternative report to the Mexican government´s official one, which was submitted to the committee on Jan. 30.
—Latinamerica Press. 

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