Most of the 5,300 children and adolescents murdered in El Salvador between 2005 and 2011 were out of school and in gangs, says UNICEF, highlighting the link between educational opportunities and gang violence.
Representative of UN children's rights body UNICEF Gordon Jonathan Lewis said that over 65 percent of children and adolescents murdered in this six-year period were between 14 and 18 years old, and of these, 80 percent were male, reported news agency EFE.
"The great majority of these youth were out of school and associated with the gang world," said Lewis, adding that the likelihood a child will join a gang is "directly associated" with dropping out of school.
Lewis made his comments at the presentation of UNICEF's report "Finishing School in Central America: The Pending Challenges", which analyzed educational exclusion throughout Central America, finding 6.4 million children to be at risk.
According to the study, 24 percent -- or 560,000 -- of high school age adolescents in the region do not attend school, with over 83,000 of these in El Salvador.
InSight Crime Analysis
The involvement of children in gangs is common in Central American countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, where gangs reportedly even forcibly recruit kindergarten students. Gangs view minors as an attractive source of manpower as they attract less attention from law enforcement and, if caught committing crimes, are not punished as severely as adults. As a result, gangs across the region have relied on minors to act as look-outs and collect extortion fees, among other tasks.
In El Salvador, there may be prospects for improvement. Following the signing of the truce between the MS-13 and Barrio 18, the two criminal organizations said they would stop violence in school zones and put an end to forced recruitment. In another cause for optimism, a partnership agreement that El Salvador forged with the US includes educational initiatives.