HomeNewsAnalysisGoing Door to Door: Mexico City’s Response To Child Recruitment

Going Door to Door: Mexico City’s Response To Child Recruitment


Officials in Mexico City have launched a new program that will seek to impede criminal networks from recruiting minors across its center, suggesting the capital's government is taking an increasingly targeted approach to hamper the enlistment of children and teenagers in organized crime.

On November 12, Mexico City’s government announced the launch of “Barrio Adentro”, an initiative designed to curb the involvement of minors in criminal activities across its Historic Center.

Officials confirmed that from November 13, a brigade of over 200 specialized public servants would go from door to door in neighborhoods most affected by crime and violence to promote public social programs available to minors living in such zones, with the underlying aim of combatting youth recruitment by illicit groups.

SEE ALSO: Mexico Criminal Groups Increase Child Recruitment Tactics

On presenting the initiative, Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum stated tackling issues such as child recruitment goes far beyond police efforts.

“Not everything is the police, not everything is the Attorney General’s Office. A fundamental part is (paying) attention to causes”, she commented.

The program will be based on four central axes: incorporation of social programs and government support; education and training; sports, cultural and recreational activities and tailored prevention and monitoring. Youths in targeted neighborhoods will have the opportunity to partake in aerobics classes, chess and robotics workshops, while their parents may be helped with a temporary work program.

According to El Universal, program workers were met with a mixed response when they entered the Guerrero neighborhood in the municipality of Cuauhtémoc on the initiative’s first day. Some residents appeared to openly praise the program while others would not interact with members of its brigade.

The initiative’s launch followed the recent murder of two minors, whose bodies were found dismembered on November 1 after they had been presumably tortured and killed in the city’s Historic Center, according to El Universal.

The media outlet claimed La Unión Tepito may have been behind the deaths, based on the criminal group’s belief the boys had been acting as “hawks” for its sworn rival, Fuerza Anti-Unión.

InSight Crime Analysis

The targeted nature of Barrio Adentro contrasts with previous governmental responses to child recruitment in Mexico, which is perhaps a promising sign, given the nation’s long-term struggle with criminal networks enlisting minors.

Up until 2012, Mexico's government had firmly denied the existence of child recruitment by criminal groups in the nation.

But the Strategic Center in Justice and Law for the Americas A.C. (Centro Estratégico en Justicia y Derecho para las Américas A.C. — CENEJYD) estimated that, between 2015 and 2018, youth recruitment by organized crime groups in Mexico had risen by over 150 percent.

In Mexico City specifically, efforts to target the practice have previously been hampered by official denials of cartel presence. In 2014, the Gulf Cartel had been seemingly promoting itself to young people in the neighborhood of Tepito with colorful leaflets. In response, authorities claimed there had been no evidence of cartels operating in any part of the capital and simply said the matter would be investigated.

SEE ALSO: Mexico to Take More Responsibility for Child Recruitment by Criminal Gangs

Government officials working at a national level have gradually taken broad steps to target the issue. They have tried “rescuing public spaces”, to prevent criminal groups from enlisting minors in such zones and previously reversed Mexico's long-standing objection to a United Nations resolution on child recruitment, essentially accepting governmental responsibility to target the issue.

In April 2019, the executive secretary of Mexico's public security system, Leonel Cota Montaño, called for a national observatory on youth recruitment by criminal groups to be set up alongside a prevention protocol.

However, Barrio Adentro’s launch suggests some officials are beginning to adopt a more targeted approach to combat the issue.

Mexico City's government does not plan to expand the program beyond its Historic Center — the public initiative will take a highly localized form which has scarcely been seen before.

The program will be needs-based with a focus on promoting pre-existing social programs to young people in some of the area’s most vulnerable communities, where child recruitment is most likely to thrive.

This is more likely to yield results than a broad-brushed national campaign which would more likely fail to account for the specific dynamics of criminal activity and associated recruitment which inevitably vary from community to community.

Juan Martín Pérez García, the director of the Network for Children’s Rights in Mexico (Red por los Derechos de la Infancia en México – Redim), told InSight Crime the most successful way to tackle child recruitment is through a localized approach, adding this had been proven worldwide in countries such as Brazil where locally focused initiatives had worked well.

He explained how communities play an incredibly important role in combating recruitment of minors as it is those who live in a given neighborhood who may best identify vulnerable youths and seek to protect them.

Mexico City’s criminal landscape has been shifting significantly in recent months. The Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación — CJNG) has been striving to deepen its influence across the capital. Mexico’s foremost criminal threat has previously been accused of recruiting young people by using social media under the false pretense of offering legitimate jobs.

Alongside this, neighborhoods in the city’s Historic Center have been regularly contested in a bloody turf war between sworn rivals La Unión Tepito and Fuerza Anti-Unión, who both want to dominate the area’s illicit economies for drugs and extortion, making such zones rife for youth recruitment.

Pérez García explained how child recruitment had occurred in Mexico City for decades — notably in the neighborhood of Tepito where young people have been used by illicit organizations for a range of logistical purposes, such as transporting drugs, since the 1980s.

However, he claimed organized crime groups now wanted the public to see evidence of youth involvement in their work to provoke a sense of public terror, adding they had been attempting to achieve this through leaving the bodies of formerly recruited minors for display.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


It would be easy to think that given all that has happened in Mexico's Michoacan state over the last few…

MEXICO / 18 DEC 2020

Lawmakers in Mexico have passed a new law that limits the power and restricts the operations of foreign law enforcement…


Chihuahua is Mexico’s biggest state, and more than a fifth of its 25,000 hectares is forested, mostly with pine trees…

About InSight Crime


Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…


InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…


InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.


Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…


Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.