Thousands of Mexican youths who have gotten caught up in drug-related crime – and increasingly, organized crime – as Mexico’s war against criminal organizations rages on, reports the Dallas Morning News. One boy, 16, tells the newspaper he was busted at 15 on theft and drug-related charges and spent six months in a youth jail “with pure killers and rapists.” Cartels are increasingly relying on youths to do their dirty work – trafficking, kidnapping, and killing – particularly in regions of the country where the battle for territory has grown fierce or where hard economic times have broken down social or family networks.
This month, Mexican authorities caught a 14-year-old suspected of working as an assassin for what remains of the Beltrán Leyva cartel south of Mexico City. The boy, a U.S. citizen, said he had been working for the cartel since he was 12 and that he had participated in at least four beheadings. His 19-year-old sister is accused of helping him dump the bodies. The number of youths picked up for drug-related crimes has risen since President Felipe Calderon began his anti-drug offensive in 2006. There were 482 young people detained that year, 810 in 2009 and 562 through August of this year. Mexico’s judicial system goes easy on youths – one of the reasons cartels are finding teenagers useful as killers-for-hire – and there is no process under which youths can be tried as adults. “The justice system treats them less harshly,” said Raúl Benítez of the Center for North America Research at Mexico’s Autonomous University. And for the cartels, “they are disposable.”