A disturbing article from the IPS news service reports that the gangs in El Salvador are beginning to recruit pre-teens to join the criminal groups:
The National Public Security Council (CNSP), the government agency in charge of violence prevention, says the typical age of entry has gone down from 14 to 12. And a U.S. State Department report presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says the maras recruit children as young as nine years of age.
According to Óscar Bonilla, president of the CNSP, the cliques, which control specific areas within neighbourhoods, offer "brand-name shoes and clothes, money and anything else that is attractive to kids."
In his view, the strategy is two-pronged: to rebuild the strength of the gangs, many of whose members are in prison, and to recruit members who are too young to face legal charges.
"Under the legal system that emerged from the peace agreement, minors cannot be tried, even when they commit serious crimes like homicide," Bonilla told IPS...
So far this year, 39 minors accused of extorting protection money from bus drivers were arrested in Soyapango, a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of San Salvador, said police chief Oscar Aguilar.
Aguilar said that both the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18 use minors to collect protection money from bus drivers and businesses in outlying slum districts.
The head of the CNSP said the gangs also employ minors as lookouts during arms and drug dealing operations, "because no one suspects a kid." (more)