HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Security Crisis Sees Rise in Children Tried as Gang Members
BRIEF

El Salvador Security Crisis Sees Rise in Children Tried as Gang Members

BARRIO 18 / 13 OCT 2015 BY ELIJAH STEVENS EN

The number of minors prosecuted for gang-related crimes in El Salvador has grown by over 50 percent over the past year, giving impetus to renewed debate over whether to try children as adults for serious crimes. 

Between January and September 2015, a total of 1,207 gang-members under the age of 18 were prosecuted in El Salvador, compared to 793 over the whole of 2014, marking a 52% increase with a quarter of the year remaining, according to figures from the District Attorney's Department of Statistics reported by EFE.

According to official records, all but a handful of the gang member were linked to the country's principal street gangs, or "maras," with 616 members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and 587 members of the various factions of the Barrio 18 prosecuted.

The rise in prosecutions comes against a backdrop of escalating violence and a security crisis linked to the maras, who commonly use minors for activities ranging from basic tasks such as collecting extortion fees to more dangerous and violent jobs, including assassinations. In response to this, representatives of the opposition ARENA party have proposed reforms to the Juvenile Penal Law, seeking to try minors (14-18 years of age) as adults for crimes linked to gang activity such as terrorism, possession of weapons of war and illicit association, reported La Pagina

Speaking in favor of the proposal, ARENA representative Patricia Valdivieso stated, "Minors in a criminal environment know that they can't be tried as adults, and commit atrocities, protected by their age."

InSight Crime Analysis

El Salvador is on course to be one of if not the most dangerous country in the world in 2015, largely due to the maras and the attempts of security forces to rein them in.

This conflict has seen a rise in prosecuting adult gang members as well as minors -- with the number charged growing from 13,779 in 2014 to 15,368, according to La Prensa Grafica. However, the increase has been much steeper for children, although it is not clear if this is indicative of the growing involvement of children in gangs or of the security forces and judicial system targeting more minors.

SEE MORE: El Salvador News and Profiles

The security crisis has provoked a predictably hardline reaction from many politicians, including the proposal to try children as adults. While it is certainly true that part of the attraction of using children in gangs is the more lenient treatment they receive in the judicial system, it is likely such a move would prove not only ineffective in improving security but also quite likely counter-productive.

Trying children as adults not only risks stigmatizing and criminalizing the country's youth, it also means they will come into contact with the hardened criminals of imprisoned gang members in the adult prison system. Conditions for youths in prisons and detention centers are already bleak, but treating them as adults would see them placed in prisons  that are essentially training grounds for gangs for gang members.

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.

DONATE

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.

DONATE

Related Content

EL SALVADOR / 20 JUL 2022

The US government has added dozens of individuals to a list of allegedly corrupt actors in Central America.

BARRIO 18 / 1 OCT 2020

This is the second part of a three-part series on San Salvador’s Historic Center, the heart of the country’s informal…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 29 OCT 2020

Salvadoran authorities recently claimed that an anti-gang campaign has led to thousands of weapons being seized. But the numbers and…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…