The number of minors arrested on organized crime charges in Mexico has declined significantly since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office, a reduction that is more likely related to broader shifts in security priorities than changes in criminal recruitment practices.
According to a report from Reporte Indigo, since 2006 Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) has detained over 7,000 minors (aged 18 and under) for offenses related to organized crime.
Almost 90 percent of the arrests took place between 2006 and 2012 -- the years that correspond with the term of former President Felipe Calderon -- for an average of 921 minors detained each year. (See Reporte Indigo's graph below)
Since 2012, the year Peña Nieto became president, only 683 minors have been arrested for links to organized crime, averaging out to 288 arrests per year in 2013 and 2014. This represents a roughly 70 percent drop between presidential administrations.
Juan Martin Perez Garcia, Director of the Network for Infant Rights in Mexico, told Reporte Indigo that organized crime groups forcibly recruit minors by giving them the ultimatum of either earning money or being killed. Perez Garcia also decried the lack of institutional mechanisms in place for minors to report organized crime activity and receive state protection.
Video produced by Report Indigo on child recruitment by criminal groups
InSight Crime Analysis
Organized crime groups in Latin America frequently recruit minors for a number of reasons. For one, youths are often seen as cheap and expendable sources of labor. Those under 18 are also generally protected from being prosecuted as adults and receiving lengthy prison sentences.
Nonetheless, a reduction in the arrests of minors in Mexico with links to organized crime is not necessarily good news. Carlos Vilalta, an investigator with the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico City, told InSight Crime that there is “no evidence” of a reduction in juvenile delinquency. Vilalta suggests the downward trend in arrests of minors on organized crime charges is “a consequence of a change in priorities” of the current administration.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy
Indeed, criminal investigations into federal crimes such as organized crime and drug trafficking have been decreasing across the board since Peña Nieto took office, not just in the case of minors. (See CIDE data below provided by Vilalta)
Additionally, organized crime-related arrests are not the only measurement of youth involvement in criminal activity. Federal crime statistics (such as the ones cited by Reporte Indigo) do not reflect data from the state level, where -- as a former Mexican federal security official pointed out to InSight Crime -- minors charged with murder or drug possession would typically be prosecuted.