On Tuesday, I pointed to a columnist writing about the need for prevention efforts to deal with Central America and El Salvador's high murder rates. The next day, a report was released by the Latin American Technological Information Network (RITLA), which gave the statistics for the murder rate among the population ages 15 - 24. As the BBC reports:
Latin America has the highest murder rates in the world for people aged between 15 and 24, according to a study by a Brazilian research group.November in El Salvador has seen an upsurge in murders. Through November 23, there had been 230 murders this month in El Salvador according to the National Police. They attribute 70% of the murders to the gangs. One example of this activity is a number of recent attacks on bus drivers and conductors. Extortionists have burned buses and killed bus drivers and conductors as they enforce a $1000 tribute for each bus passing operating in their territory. President Saca called on bus owners not to pay the extortionists, but to report them to the authorities, although for years the government has been unable to increase the level of safety for the private bus system. Photographer Jesus Flores, calling the attacks on the bus system a form of "terrorism," has a blog post with images from this weeks attacks.
Using data from 83 countries, the group found that the probability of a young person being murdered in Latin America is 30 times higher than in Europe.
The grimmest figures are for El Salvador, where the murder rate among young people is 92 per 100,000 people.
A key factor there is the presence of violent youth gangs, the report says.
The study, called Map of Violence: The Young People of Latin America, was compiled by researchers at the Latin American Technological Information Network, Ritla.
The Brasilia-based group compared murder rates for 2007 in 83 countries, both for the overall population and for the 15-to-24 age bracket.YOUTH MURDER RATES PER 100,000
1. El Salvador: 92.3
2. Colombia: 73.4
3. Venezuela: 64.2
4. Guatemala: 55.4
5. Brazil: 51.6
15. South Africa: 16.6
70. Greece: 0.5
76. Japan: 0.3
"The probability of a young Latin American being a murder victim is 30 times higher than for a European, and more than 70 times greater than for young people in countries like Greece, Hungary, England, Austria... or Ireland," the report said.
The comparative study found that the murder rate for young people was 36.6 for every 100,000 people in Latin America while in Africa it was 16.1, North America 12, Asia 2.4, Oceania 1.6 and Europe 1.2, although there are variations within a particular region.
The report also found that the top four countries for youth murder rates also headed the overall murder rate table: El Salvador (total murders per 100,000 - 48.8), Colombia (43.8), Venezuela (29.5) and Guatemala (28.5).
In the midst of this grim news, there are specific prevention initiatives which have shown success. Earlier this month the Washington Office on Latin America released a report titled "Daring to Care: Community-Based Responses to Youth Gang Violence in Central America and Central-American Immigrant Communities in the United States .” The report looks at anti-gang initiatives which are working in Central American immigrant communities in the US and in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Among the reports conclusions are the following:
While there is no easy formula for creating an effective program, and different approaches may be warranted in different contexts, there are certain lessons that emerge from the cases profiled in this report. Some of those lessons are:In previous posts I have mentioned other organizations working on gang-prevention such as
- The most successful gang prevention programs are those that are community led and bring together diverse actors such as schools, local government, healthcare centers, religious institutions and police.
- Effective programs are usually designed by local or municipal government agencies and by community actors; national government agencies ought to provide technical assistance, guidance, and funding for local initiatives.
- Communities vary, and gang violence prevention programs must be tailored to the conditions found in specific communities. The root causes of gang membership and their impact on a community differ and require varied approaches. Each program profiled in this publication began by analyzing the situation in its community and developed specific local responses based on that analysis.
Barefoot Angels and Homies Unidos. There needs to be a massive increase in support for such community-based initiatives if El Salvador is going to turn the page on this plague. Unfortunately, none of the major candidates for president of El Salvador seems to be outlining such an approach. While they certainly mention the need to address the insecurity which Salvadorans feel, concrete proposals are few and far between.
I also want to address messages I received from two readers about this issue after my last post. One reader accused me of always putting El Salvador in a bad light and said that El Salvador's crime problem is no different than New York. Unfortunately, the statistics show that El Salvador's problem is much worse than in New York or other urban areas in the US. (That does not mean that all, or even most of El Salvador suffers from gang-driven murders. Departments such as Chalatenango and Morozan have a quite low incidence of murder, for example.). But if you don't acknowledge there is a problem you can't have a discussion about what can be done to fix it.
The other comment, from a regular reader, is that what El Salvador needs is more police, more weaponry and a tougher approach to crime. Frankly, get tough policies in El Salvador have never shown any reduction in the level of criminality. What El Salvador needs is smarter policing, better courts and prosecutors, and not necessarily more firepower. But that approach must be accompanied by the kinds of community-based prevention efforts and local policing described in the WOLA report.