Child poverty in Mexico
According to a report published by the Centre for Social Studies and Public Opinion of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, a quarter of Mexican children are unhealthy due to malnutrition. The 2012 report says that of the 36 million young people in Mexico between the ages of 12 and 29, 9 million suffer from food poverty.
According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, there are 14.9 million young people living in poverty. That’s the highest figure in Mexican history.
In Mexico, poverty, corruption, the drugs trade and other serious social problems mean more and more children and teenagers are getting involved in violent crime.
“No one suspects children. They can come and go without question. The guns they use weigh are very light and a 10-year-old can easily use them,”. It’s a teenager speaking, on the street in one of the poor and violent neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Mexico City. A skinny boy who’ll only talk if he can remain anonymous. He knows child assassins: they’re his neighbours and he watched them growing up.
“They don’t realise what they’re doing,” he says. This anonymous boy speaks dispassionately about the horrors all around him, it’s the only way to cope. “The children are promised money or a toy, and sometimes the people who order the murder don’t keep their side of the deal. Sometimes the child assassin gets killed by the partners of the murdered Mafioso, but the damage to the organisation can’t be undone. The leader can’t be brought back to life.”
There’s no support for these children. No child psychologists or special juvenile judges. If they’re caught, they either go to prison or the police just let them go. And violence is a way of life. “The gangs in Chimalhuacán are constantly at war. When they attack a person, the whole gang gets involved. If the person falls to the ground, they’re finished because they’ll kick them in the head until they’re dead. Then they wrap the corpse up in a blanket and throw it into a sewage canal. That person will never be heard of again.”
Q: What about the police?
“The police don’t go there. They used to but only to collect protection money.”
Q: What is it to be young?
“Children and teenagers are an endless supply of cheap labour. In Mexico, organised crime is taking advantage of the huge numbers of young people and using them like cannon fodder. There are huge inequalities in this country: there’s extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Young people have few opportunities to study and even fewer to find work. “
“Many have already spent time in jail. Since they have a record, no one wants to employ them. The only way they can survive is by stealing.”
Q: Are there social programmes where you live?
“No, the police don’t help people. They just extort money from local stores. There’s no rule of law. It’s worse than the jungle.”
Fighting hunger and sadness
“Many of the kids start sniffing cocaine paste when they’re very young. It’s a cheap drug that staves off hunger and sadness.There are child gangs that rob to eat or to just get their hands on something. They make me really sad.”
Q: And their families?
“Many of them have no one. They’re street children. They come from the neighbourhood and join the gangs at a young age. The gangs promise them money but often they don’t pay them.”
Q: Is poverty forcing children to become drugs dealers?
“Yes, they can earn a minimum of 300 pesos (18 euros) and a maximum of 5000 to 10.000 pesos (300-600 euros) a day. That’s why the kids are carrying guns. They’re being hired to kill the major drugs dealers near Tepito. The child assassins are everywhere. They have their own turf where they sell drugs. If they go to a different neighbourhood, they get murdered. The desperation in this region is so great that many kids are forced to get involved in organised crime.”
Q: How much do child assassins charge?
To murder a young kid, 2000 to 3000 pesos (120-180 euros). To kill a teenager, the going rate is around 10.000 pesos (600 euros). There are more child assassins than adults. Children are disposable. Adults attract attention and police stop them. They leave kids alone.
Q: Do you see a solution to this situation?
“Change the government and clean up the police force. Get rid of all the people at the top because they’re involved in the drugs trade. You have to change the governor, the deputies and the president. The incoming president, Enrique Peña Nieto, is going to be even worse. The despair and hatred, they’re all intertwined.