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Preventing further violence in Ciudad Jurez: A strategy to tackle youth gang involvement.

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Hctor Agustn Murgua, Mayor of Ciudad Jurez, Chihuahua, Mxico. Csar Duarte Jquez, Governor of Chihuahua, Mxico. Jaime Archundia Macedo, Independent Advisor. Local policies to reinforce the Federal Governments strategy for Ciudad Jurez. November 16, 2011.

Drug cartels in Jurez are nurturing their gun power with thousands of do-nothing youngsters who each year became involved in street gangs. A strategy to tackle this problem has to be implemented, since not addressing the issue could lead to further violence and to strengthen the presence of cartels in the border. This policy memo analyzes the factors that triggered youth gang involvement in Jurez and suggests that restoring the social and family bonds of at-risk juveniles is the best option to deter them from gang participation.

Street gangs, a threat for chronic violence in Ciudad Jurez.

More than 8,000 murders in five years make Ciudad Jureza US-Mexico border city the worlds deadliest metropolis outside a war zone. This carnage was detonated in late 2007, when Jurez and Sinaloa cartels started a battle to gain control over the city. Cartels have been recruiting street gangs to be their gunmen. The juveniles who participate in these gangs have been used as cannon fodder: 7o% of the victims in 2008 and 2009 were in the 15 to 35 age range. Jurez has 112,000 juveniles that do not work nor attend school1 and more than 150,000 drug addicts2. The problem is that the affiliation of unoccupied youth to street gangs fuels the battle between cartels and perpetuates violence in the city. More than 320 street gangs3, full loaded with do-nothing teenagers, are a threat for chronic unrest. So far the Federal Government has concentrated its strategy to combat drug

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Mexican Ministry of Education, 2010. Mexican Ministry of Health clinicians estimates, 2009. 3 Mexican Central Intelligence Agency.

Preventing further violence in Ciudad Jurez: A strategy to tackle youth gang involvement.
efforts to tackle youth gang involvement.

cartels. Consequently, Ciudad Jurezs Mayor and Chihuahuas Governor should direct their

This policy memo briefly explores the main factors that triggered street gangs proliferation in Jurez, and figures out the profile of a typical at-risk juvenile. Current prevention strategies are assessed and policy recommendations are given.

Why did street gangs proliferate in Jurez?

The gang problem is the outcome of: 1) an accelerated population growth entailing social exclusion; 2) a weakened economic situation that left poor families without sources of income and force many children to work in the streets; 3) an innate motivation of these children to protect themselves gathering in groups; and 4) the strategic importance of Jurez as gateway to the US. 1) Social exclusion. In the mid-1990s NAFTA4 propelled the maquiladora industry (assembling plants); people arrived to Jurez attracted by unskilled jobs that paid 20% more than the minimum wage in Mexico at that time. In twenty years the population doubled and the city absorbed the newcomers without assuring them access to housing, healthcare and education. More than 25% of the population lived in slums, 30% did not have access to medical attention, and 50% did not complete basic education (9 years). The social lag persists up to date.

2) Children left to fend for themselves. A significant portion of households (36%) were supported by single motherswho made two thirds of maquila workers. This caused many children to be unsupervised during day. In 1995 an economic recession struck Mexico and more family members had to work; in many cases, children had to drop out of school and joined the labor force. With subsequent economic recessions the maquila industry went into

North America Free Trade Agreement.

Preventing further violence in Ciudad Jurez: A strategy to tackle youth gang involvement.
and large families settled in the streets cleaning car windshields, selling or begging.

crisis, people lost their jobs and lacked education to seek for better ones. Children from poor

3) Street children. Jurezs street children have been exposed to violence, hunger and drugs; many of them have been abused or neglected by their families. While in the street, children assembled family-type groups among them for protection against citys threats. These closedknit groups are the seeds of street gangs. 4) Strategic gateway to the US. Migration is a factor that triggers youth gang involvement. Thousands of children get trapped at Jurez when their plans of crossing to the US are thwarted. Gangs are there to provide vulnerable children with shelter and some sense of identitya name, family and history. As a result, children get introduced to vandalism and robbery; and later used to collect debts, kidnap, extort and murder rivals.

The profile of a typical juvenile at risk of gang involvement: He is a male between 12 and 24 years, comes from a poor home in the slums or is an immigrant from Mexico or Central America. He dropped out of school and found a way to survive in the streets. He was neglected or abused by his parents. Notwithstanding, family ties are important for him. In the street he gathers around family-type groups with other street children for shelter. He is addicted to inhalants and alcohol.5

Current strategies and policy recommendations

Current government strategies were not designed to address the social and economic inputs that prompt gangs in Jurez, so they only attend the problem tangentially. In one year, Todos Somos Jurez6 has spent more than US$130m by constructing 5 new mid-schools, giving

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The profile is based on the anthropological studies conducted by the Mexican Ministry of Social Development in 2009. Federal Governments 160 actions to restore the social fabric and reduce criminality (launched in February 2010).

Preventing further violence in Ciudad Jurez: A strategy to tackle youth gang involvement.

stipends to keep students in school, delivering money for poor families, and rehabilitating public spaces. Nevertheless, new schools are half full, stipends are not being collected and dropout rates remain. Ironically, rehabilitated public spaces have been scenery for murders. It is clear that the solution is neither giving money nor providing infrastructure. Family-aimed policies have been very limited so far. Todos Somos Jurez has substantially increased day care facilities in the city, but actions to promote parents responsible involvement in raising their children have not yet been considered. As the previous section points out, family-type relations are important for at-risk youth: children who do not feel protected at home seek other sources of shelter. Hence, a strategy focused on restoring the family bonds that discourage youth gang involvement is recommended. Policies must be targeted to:


Prevent children from antisocial behavior. Reduce child neglect. Create a program that teaches young first-time mothers (particularly from poor families) how to raise their children in a nurturing non-violent environment. Foster parent involvement. Elicit family interaction through community-based activities where parents and children spend time together.

2. Dissuade teenagers from addictions and delinquent habits. Restore street childrens social skills. Provide shelter to homeless children for them to rebuild their social bonds in a healthy way. Treat addictions. Give medical and psychological assistance to reduce alcohol and drug dependence, also provide parent training to prevent and deal with addictions.

Preventing further violence in Ciudad Jurez: A strategy to tackle youth gang involvement.
events that encourage their participation and creativity.

Keep children in school. Generate identity between children and their school through

3. Demobilize youth already affiliated to street gangs. Rebuild family ties. Provide psychological therapy to youth involved in gangs and their families, to enhance emotional connections and detach teenagers from gangs. Provide opportunities. Give self-esteem empowerment and job training to gang members who have not had the opportunity to study or to be part of society.