By Juan Manuel Ramirez G.
Mexico City, Sep 23 (efe-epa).- Damian was sold or given away by his mother at the age of seven in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
A year later, he was already working for the Los Zetas cartel; and at the age of 14, after becoming involved in different types of illegal activity – from drug-dealing to kidnapping and theft – he ended up in the juvenile detention system.
Damian, who had been living at a garbage dump when he was recruited to be a member of a child organ-trafficking ring, is one of thousands of minors who in recent years have joined the ranks of organized crime in Mexico, a chilling reality that is now the topic of a new book published by Editorial Aguilar.
Titled “Un sicario en cada hijo te dio: Niñas, niños y adolescentes en la delincuencia organizada.” (A Hitman in Every Son: Girls, Boys and Teenagers in Organized Crime) and co-authored by psychologist and criminologist Saskia Niño de Rivera and three other experts in those fields, the book is centered around six first-hand accounts that provide deep insight into why Mexican minors turn to a life of crime.
“There’s a big void and a great deal of social neglect surrounding this problem,” Niño de Rivera – co-founder and president of the Reinserta association, an organization that strives to break the cycle of crime – told Efe on Wednesday, adding that the most daunting issue is the very early age in which these youth start committing crimes.
De Rivera said the lack of a state presence in different parts of Mexico’s territory contributes to the problem by allowing minors to be exposed to high levels of violence.
According to figures from the Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico (Redim), between 35,000 and 45,000 minors who were forcibly recruited by organized crime are currently working for those gangs.
“Damian found in organized crime everything that had been lacking in his short existence,” said Mercedes Llamas, co-author of the book along with Fernanda Dorantes, Mercedes Castañeda and Niño de Rivera.
“When the boy arrived at the juvenile detention center, he had no identity, he had no birth certificate. And with that his right to have a name, a nationality and a family were violated,” she said.
Llamas said minors trapped in a cycle of crime exhibit common characteristics: a stunting of their emotional growth, social marginalization, a lack of work opportunities for both them and their parents and extremely poor performance in school.
The goal of the book therefore is to shine a light on the problem and give these children a voice “in order to understand why they become aggressors and have this delinquent behavior,” Llamas said.
Niño de Rivera recalled that Damian’s first job in organized crime was to steal children and said that when she met him at the juvenile detention center “he could hardly talk” and used nothing but prison slang and utterly vulgar language.
She noted that thanks to pressure from the book’s authors Damian obtained a birth certificate upon reaching adulthood, a milestone that came three days after he was released from the juvenile detention center.
But she said that identity document served little purpose because “they killed him a few months ago.”
That violent end is an inescapable reality for many juvenile offenders in Mexico, the authors said, adding that the book’s title comes from a line in the Mexican national anthem that reads “el cielo un soldado en cada hijo te dio” (heaven has given a soldier in every son).
“It’s a harsh title, and the changing of soldier for hitman is a call to protect our children and not neglect them. We want to stir people’s consciences through the title to shake up the government and society,” Llamas said. EFE