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Children in Mexico Are Joining a Self-Defense Militia in Response to Cartel Violence

Children in a remote, mountainous region in Mexico’s Guerrero state are training to defend their homes as part of their local volunteer police group. CNN’s Natalie Gallón reports that kids between the ages of 6-12 have begun training about two months ago as part of CRAC-PC (Regional Coordination of Community Authorities – Community Police). The group, which formed in 2014, has about 200 members and began recruiting minors about eight months ago.

“I prefer that they had a notebook and pen, but the need forces us,” Elvia told CNN, she has two sons aged 14 and 17 who are part of CRAC-PC. Her husband and CRAC-PC member Jose added,  “If there was an opportunity to for them to study — to become someone — that would be what we want most, but seeing the government do nothing to offer security to our communities, well now we rise up to defend our community.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) took office in 2018 and has maintained a “Hugs, Not Bullets” approach to drug cartel violence which has proven to be ineffective despite his insistence that you can’t end violence with more violence. Crime continues to rise with 2017 initially considered the deadliest year in Mexico with roughly 25, 339 murders however in 2018 that number rose by 33 percent with 33,341 murders. Now, according to CNN, 2019 is the deadliest year yet with  35,588 murders, according to the National Public Safety Secretariat.

In October of last year, there was a shootout between cartels and the police in Guerrero and Michoacán that left more than 30 people dead and Ayotzinapa, Guerrero is also where 43 students disappeared in 2014. So the indigenous community in Guerrero has taken steps toward combating the violence through social mobilization including identifying and shaming corrupt officers and judges who work with the cartels, according to The Conversation. Organizing and training a civilian police force is, therefore, another extension of their efforts and now the addition of children is meant to ensure the younger generation is equipped to protect the community.

CNN reports that so far the volunteers haven’t confronted criminals yet but now with the recruitment of children the local children’s rights organizations believe the Mexican government will take note of the extreme measures taken in the face of growing violence. “The ads for child recruitment in the CRAC’s are a desperate act to get the attention of the Mexican State,” Mexico’s Network for the Rights of Children told CNN.

Guerrero’s school system is so broken that elementary school teachers sometimes simply don’t show up and traveling to other cities or towns for educational purposes is difficult as traveling can be dangerous with criminal groups in the area. This means that spending all day – hours can go from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. – training doesn’t tend to come at the cost of schooling for many of the children involved.

Diego – a 12-year-old recruit Gallón spoke to – said he used to go to school but the teachers stopped coming and when he’s asked if he understands what it means to be armed he said, “If I carry a gun, it can be loaded and I might hurt someone.”

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