Organized Crime Targets Children and Adolescents in San Cristóbal de Las Casas


It is estimated that about 2,507 children and adolescents, most of them from indigenous communities of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and nearby areas in the Highlands of Chiapas, are at risk of being victims of forced recruitment by organized crime and gangs, activists, human rights defenders, and researchers revealed this Friday when presenting the 131-page report “Childhoods Facing Criminal Violence in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas.”

Jennifer Haza Gutiérrez, director of the organization Melel Xojobal, which has been dedicated for more than 27 years to the defense of indigenous children and adolescents in the city, along with Violeta Galicia from the Network for the Rights of Children and Adolescents in Chiapas (Redias), and researchers Alberto Hidalgo (report consultant) and Angélica Evangelista (El Colegio de la Frontera Sur), presented various aspects of the newly published document.

They warned that once inside criminal groups, adolescents can have different tasks: running errands, selling and transporting drugs, recruiting other young people, performing surveillance or smuggling duties, and in the case of women, participating in cleaning activities, such as waitressing in bars, cantinas, or being victims of sexual exploitation.

Similarly, they are forced to participate in confrontations against rival groups, as well as engage in gang or hitman activities. It is common for girls, boys, and adolescents who are part of these groups to be used for high-risk activities that endanger their lives and integrity or could lead to their arrest.

This responds to the logic that they are seen as expendable pieces that can be easily replaced.

Recruited Youths Are Between 15 and 21 Years Old

They pointed out that the young people hooked in San Cristóbal have an average age between 15 and 21 years, and most of them are Tsotsil or Tzeltal. Locally, the term “motonetos” has been coined to refer to the males who are part of the gangs, due to the use of motorcycles for transportation.

However, this concept is used pejoratively and constitutes a form of criminalization of the youth of indigenous communities and any young person who travels by motorcycle; it also simplifies the complexity of the phenomenon and the context of structural violence and historical discrimination against this population.

And that, recruitment is not the first violence these young people experience. It is just one of the most visible in a continuum of violence they face throughout their lives: from family violence, which is the most common crime in Chiapas, to disappearance and homicide.

“What is shared here is an approximation made from official data, dialogues, and analysis spaces with other civil society and human rights organizations in Chiapas, testimonies and talks with working girls, boys, and adolescents and their families, interviews with representatives of government institutions and schools, and meetings with collectives and organized neighborhoods in the city,” said Haza Gutiérrez.

She explained that from the documentation of cases and data analysis “we can affirm that all violence against girls, boys, and adolescents has been increasing in Chiapas and in San Cristóbal de Las Casas as a consequence of the impoverishment and inequality that were exacerbated by the pandemic, and also due to the growth of various criminal economies and armed groups that strengthen their power and territorial control in the southeastern region of the country every day, with the omission and complicity of various authorities and the Mexican state as a whole.”

Pioneering Study on Violence Against Children in Chiapas

The REDIAS organization addressed the various uses that organizations, collectives, and individual can give to the document. The perspectives covered by the document, being pioneering in portraying violence in the sector of girls and boys in Chiapas.

“Rarely is it spoken of as such about girls, boys, and adolescents, the issue of violence is mentioned in an integral way. Without a doubt, it is not the first time that Chiapas has been mentioned as having a geostrategic character, but how this character affects the lives of NNA (children and adolescents) and in a specific municipality. (…)

“I consider it to be the first description that has been given of the phenomenon of recruitment by criminal groups of children and adolescents. Making a historical analysis, recalling how the engagement in the farms used to be, this simile is made with what currently happens. On the other hand, it allows characterizing this recruitment phenomenon in the context of violence…”

“The main or most evident use of this report is to easily access data on violence towards NNA, which is also disaggregated by sex, age group, identity, or ethnicity, and allows to visualize how this violence affects differently according to the specific characteristic.”

Researcher Angélica Evangelista commented: “I particularly recommend reading the methodological section where the route followed by the Melel team to generate knowledge about how criminal violence is perceived, experienced, and affects children in San Cristóbal is described.”

“It is, she said, a work of analysis, systematization of long-standing data, Melel has been documenting these phenomena for many years, also carrying out the exercise of analysis and interpretation. In such a way that Melel has achieved ethnographic records of great richness, databases that discuss with the official and available information…”

“I highlight two proposals for interpretation for the complex understanding of the phenomenon: on one hand, talking about criminal associations of shock and motorcycle gangs is a related category, it is a very novel proposal. Naming it, building the category, and also complexifying it in the context of all these violence that are victims of childhood and adolescence. And on the other hand, the category of criminal engagement and recruitment, both categories allow to contextualize culturally, socially, and historically the criminal violence in San Cristóbal in Chiapas. And they should guide the actions of attention and prevention of the authorities responsible for guaranteeing a life free of violence for children…”

The consultant of the research and the report, Alberto Hidalgo mentioned that the document strengthens a common narrative that underpins social transformation and above all not paralyzing terror, it is a bit what we have to continue adding from this work.

“Continue expanding dialogues with sectors of the common sphere to understand aspirations, concerns, and possibilities. Normally we are very closed in our dialogues, we believe it is extremely important to expand them, it was very helpful in the work we were able to do. Knowing what is happening in schools, neighborhoods, etc. How do they see it, how do they feel it? The initiatives we heard there are very important to visualize,” he indicated.

Urgent Call to Address Social Inequality, Racism, and Social Exclusion

Among the recommendations in the report is to strengthen the capacities of girls, boys, and adolescents for civic participation, decision-making, and self-care. A social action in the territory through an integral perspective that considers the needs and demands of the population according to historical and cultural characteristics.

“Furthermore, address triggers of social violence such as social inequality, racism, and social exclusion through the promotion of access to basic health services, sanitation, education, and employment.

Implement public policies under the paradigm of healthy environments that include topics such as comprehensive sexuality education; access to health services, nutrition; the promotion of physical activities and healthy recreation; the encouragement of culture and the arts, etc.

Likewise, promote the generation of knowledge about the new realities of childhood, the risk factors experienced by these groups, the long-term effects of present violence, and successful experiences in preventing these, and improve data recording mechanisms on the different types of violence towards children and adolescents, as well as promote the generation of context analysis of these crimes, which allow for a better understanding of the phenomena and generate actions for their prevention.”

Source: Proceso