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  • Sergio-Alejandro Porres

Opinion: To Prevent Cartels from Recruiting Youth, Mexico Needs to Spend More on Social Programs

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

In 2010, a 14-year-old child killer who claimed he was kidnapped and forced to work for a cartel at age 11 was arrested. Thirteen years later, a 14-year-old dubbed “El Chapito” was arrested for eight drug related murders in March of this year. According to data from Mexico’s Network for Children’s Rights, an estimated 30,000 young people have been recruited by drug cartels since 2019. While shocking, these cases are not outliers and prove that the Mexican government has done little work to prevent the recruitment of children by Mexican cartels. Young people appeal to cartels as a cost-effective labor force to fill low level roles like being drug mules and child soldiers. Children are typically recruited between the ages of 13 and 15 as they draw less attention and cannot be charged as adults. Many are swayed by religious beliefs and are drawn to a sense of belonging that they do not find in other places as products of poverty, abusive homes and unresponsive schools and social agencies. An increase in government funding for social programs would immediately benefit Mexico by addressing the root causes that make young people vulnerable to cartel recruitment. The success of the programs will depend on various factors, including the quality of training provided, the availability of job opportunities, and the ability of young people to leverage the skills and experience gained through the programs to find sustainable employment. However, successful implementation of these programs is only possible if rampant Mexican institutional corruption is addressed.

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