Mexico’s drug war has taken its toll on children. More than 30,000 of them have been involved in organized crime, according to the Children’s Rights Network (REDIM).

These children are paid by drug gangs to do minor roles such as drug running or being lookouts, but some have been trained to kill. This was the case of 14-year-old Edgar Jimenez, nicknamed ‘El Ponhis’ or ‘The Cloak’, arrested last year. Jimenez had been kidnapped at the age of 11 and forced into crime.

The circumstances that have lead to children’s involvement in organized crime vary, according to the story published by CNN. Social exclusion and economic marginality play a strong role. But also coercion by threats of violence against them or their families.

In this sense, the Children’s Rights Network has urged the government to recognize them as victims of child abuse. In a country where 30,000-50,000 people have died in the ‘drug war’, children have been orphaned and neglected.

There is a need to “take into account the long-term psychological damage to children associated with high levels of violence and the resultant breakdown in family, community, and social structures”, according to Aram Barra and Daniel Joloy’s article in Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Policies on Young People. If the government does not take responsibility for upholding their rights, the long term consequences will not only be felt by these children and their families, but on whole communities.

As Barra and Joloy conclude, “drugs should be addressed as a public health and development issue, rather than a security issue, and only if children are truly placed at the forefront of more effective drug policies rather than being left to drift in a sea of violence.”

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