Gang Prevention through Youth Empowerment
Disclaimer: SHARE is dedicated to always keeping our staff and delegates safe. We rely on our Salvadoran counterparts, who have the best understanding of their reality, to keep us up-to-date with the level of security in their region. We only take delegates to areas where we know they will be kept out of harms way.
Two and a half years ago, in March of 2012, El Salvador’s two largest gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13) and Barrio 18 (18th Street Gang), signed a truce to end most of the violence and extortion between the gangs. The truce proved to be successful in its first year. The homicide rate dropped from 14 to 6 a day. However, in the second year and a half of that truce, we have seen it deteriorate. From incredibly high rates of forced displacement (130,000 fled their homes in 2013) due to gang threats, to a day in May of this year known as “Black Friday” where in total 81 people were killed, less hope now exists that the truce will continue to hold up. In early September of this year, there were rumors of a second truce in the works. Yet, nothing official has surfaced.
New president Salvador Sanchez Ceren and his administration have promised to make security a priority during this first year in office. Within the last week, a communal policing program launched to start building trust and ensuring safety on a neighborhood level. This initiative enlists small groups of police officers who work with community councils to watch over specific neighborhoods. However, this new programing doesn’t quite address the root cause of the gang phenomena.
The gangs thrive on the lack of resources for the majority of Salvadoran youth to study, and very few employment opportunities for the same demographic. The gangs provide a source of income for many young men coming from poor families. Poverty is one of the leading causes forcing youth to join the gangs. This same poverty leaves homes fatherless (either having migrated to the city or away from El Salvador altogether to make ends meet for the family). This broken family unit has been proven a common theme in many of the lives of the youth that join the gangs. The gangs provide a familial-like structure, a place of belonging for young teenagers who feel they can’t find that from a more traditional source.