IACHR Presents Report on Organized Crime and the Rights of Children, Adolescents, and Young People in Northern Central America

April 26, 2023

Organized Crime and the Rights of Children, Adolescents, and Young People: Lines of Action and the Challenges Facing States in Northern Central America

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has released a new report, "Organized Crime and the Rights of Children, Adolescents, and Young People: Lines of Action and the Challenges Facing States in Northern Central America," which analyzes the actions of organized criminal groups and their impact on the rights of children, adolescents, and young people from a regional perspective.

The report notes that the maras or gangs of northern Central America are one of the most violent forms of organized crime. They result from a series of structural factors such as poverty and social exclusion; corruption and institutional weakness; the infiltration of criminal structures into formal State institutions; and a culture of impunity. In this context of organized violence, children, adolescents, and young people are at particular risk of having their rights violated, accepting and naturalizing violence, and experiencing limitations to their opportunities for development.

One of the main forms of violence against children and adolescents is forced recruitment by criminal organizations, maras, or gangs. According to information gathered by the IACHR, the age of recruitment is usually between 13 and 15. In some cases, children and adolescents are recruited to take advantage of the fact that they cannot be held accountable for crimes if they are under 13 in Guatemala and under 12 in Honduras and El Salvador. As a result, children under these ages are being used to carry out increasingly violent tasks.

The report is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 analyzes the rights of children, adolescents, and young people in the contexts of insecurity and violence that prevail in these countries. Chapter 2 examines various forms of violence and discrimination linked to organized crime to which this population is exposed. Chapter 3 addresses States' obligations and responses to organized crime from the perspective of the rights of children, adolescents, and young people. Finally, chapter 4 presents observations and recommendations to guarantee this population's right to live a life free of violence in these contexts.

The report ends by making a series of recommendations. Specifically, it recommends that States prepare and adapt their urgent and precautionary protection systems to enable them to respond rapidly to the real and immediate risks that may result in children, adolescents, and young people being subjected to violations of their rights by organized criminal groups, maras, or gangs; establish effective programs that seek to neutralize the forced recruitment of children, adolescents, and young people; raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 16; include support and treatment protocols for mental health issues in the social reintegration programs for children, adolescents, and young people who were formerly involved in organized crime; and guarantee that children, adolescents, young people, their families, and the community can take part in the design of public policies to combat organized crime.

The IACHR has also noted that for the first time in the history of its work, it establishes in the report that "young people" and "youth" mean people between the ages of 15 and 29. It also acknowledges that these are dynamic concepts that may vary depending on the context and that a differentiated, intersectional approach to this population should be adopted, according to their needs and stages of development. The IACHR also stresses that youth is a stage of life that is often overlooked. It thus emphasizes the importance of recognizing young people as bearers of rights to avoid creating a gap in access to these rights during this period between childhood and the full autonomy and independence of adulthood.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 077/23

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