In an area of Western Mexico, children as young as six years old are taking up arms against organized crime. Last week, 19 children were inducted into a vigilante group aimed at taking down drug smugglers. According to the LA Times, the group has been operating in Guerrero for years. Disturbing images were published by local journals that show young children being given weapons to defend themselves. Some images of the initiation ceremony show young boys performing military-style drills and manoeuvres. These images sparked outrage across the country, especially among human right activists who condemned the group’s use of child soldiers as child abuse. Two of the youngest children trained and inducted into this vigilante group are only six years old and the oldest are 15.
The founder of the group known as CRAC-PF, Bernardino Sanchez Luna said, “They must be prepared…If they are afraid, the criminals will kill them like little chickens.” One of the leaders of the groups gave a phone interview in which he claimed that a steady increase of violence in the region made arming the children necessary; he said the lack of government intervention into the violence caused by criminals left them with no choice. When talking about the violence in the region and the lengths that the criminals will go, Sanchez stated, “Nobody, not even a child, is off-limits.” Ramón Navarrete Magdaleno, President of the Guerrero Human Rights Commission said, “We strongly reject the involvement of minors in security tasks that put their development, physical integrity, and life at risk.” Sanchez responded to the criticism, “They say we’re violating the children’s right, but it’s the criminals who are doing that.” He went on to say that the children are being trained to use their weapons properly and responsibly. “Having a weapon is a lot of responsibility. You should only use your gun to defend your life,” he told them. In one video, a very young boy with a bandana covering his face told a local journalist that he was happy he was participating and that he was there “to defend the community.”
Situations such as these are very complicated, but making soldiers out of children can only add to the violence. These children will grow up not only seeing the violence around them, but being a large part of it. Children as young as six years old cannot possibly defend themselves and giving them a gun to combat extremely dangerous criminals is not helping them, it is putting them at even greater risk. It is clear that some kind of intervention needs to happen in Guerrero, and soon, because an community that feels they need to arm their children to defend themselves is in very serious trouble.
Over the last seven years, several community quasi-police forces have sprung up in Guerrero and laid claim to a constitutionally-protected right which allows indigenous groups to create systems of self-government. The vigilantes say they are defending themselves against criminal gangs that control the drug smuggling routes and extort money from businesses in the region; however, many critics claims that the vigilantes are involved in criminal activity themselves. According to the LA Times, CARC-PF began training children in self-defence after a group of indigenous musicians were killed on 17 January 2020. Ten musicians were on their way back from a performance when both their vans were struck in the town of Chilapa. The musicians were stabbed and their bodies and the vans were set on fire. After this incident, residents were obviously outraged. They blocked roads in protest and demanded government intervention. Residents were particularly upset about this incident because the youngest victim was 15.
Mexican Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo stated that the government would “review” CRAC-PF and decide if they should be allowed to continue to bears arms, especially now that its recruitment of children has surfaced. Under international human rights law, recruiting children under age 15 into an armed group is a war crime. This practice is not common in Latin American, except in the Colombian group FARC. Some analysts have raised suspicions over whether the induction ceremony was real, claiming that it could be a tactic by the vigilantes to raise awareness and draw attention to the violence in the area. Either way, it is clear that the violence in this region is at a terrible level and something, government intervention or otherwise, must be done.
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