A recent United Nations report has declared El Salvador and Guatemala the most dangerous countries in the world for children. The report by UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund), recently reported statistics for homicide rates across the world for the age range 0 to 19. The numbers, which were compiled from 2012 statistics, reveal El Salvador as having a child homicide rate of 27 per 100,000 children. Guatemala was second highest in the world with 22 per 100,000. Panama, another Central American nation, had the 8th highest child homicide rate in the world.
Guatemala and El Salvador have been plagued with youth violence for some time. The violence typically stems from youth gangs, drug use, and domestic abuse. When the statistics are broken down, El Salvador ranked highest in the world for homicides in boys, yet 7th in girls. Guatemala ranked 3rd in both categories. Both nations had much higher rates for boys than girls.
Gang violence is running rampant in Central America, as most youth are dealing with high poverty levels coupled with the opportunity to be involved in the illegal drug trade. Street gangs, which were once isolated in their own barrios, are now being given the opportunity to transit drugs through their nations for larger transnational drug organizations. When international drug routes shifted back to Central American from the Caribbean, crime levels and local drug use skyrocketed as well.
An estimated 60,000 Salvadorans are involved with violent gangs, mostly the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 groups. Most of these members are below the age of 20. The gangs are violently feuding across the nation, as well as in Guatemala and Honduras. A gang truce in El Salvador slowed violence since late 2012, but has since fell through and has again risen.
In El Salvador, only an estimate 25% of the youth are attending high schools. Only around 2% make it to a University.
Violence among the youth in Central America has become well known in recent months in the United States after a record number of children crossed the border illegally. Most of the youth apprehended cite fear of violence as their reason for fleeing their nation of origin. In the fiscal year of 2014, 17,057 unaccompanied children from Guatemala and 16,404 from El Salvador were detained at the U.S. border. Honduras had an even higher number of youth apprehended at 18,244.
Homicides in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, an area often referred to as the Golden Triangle, are rarely investigated or prosecuted. The capitals of all three nations are among the most dangerous cities in the world. Honduras had the highest murder rate for a nation in 2013 that was not at war. San Pedro Sula, the second biggest city in Honduras, had the highest homicide rate in the world for a city in 2013.
Guatemala City, which is often left out of the conversation behind cities in Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, actually had a higher number of homicides than any major city in the nations mentioned.
Homicides of women in the Northern Triangle are also extremely high. In Guatemala, 759 women were murdered in 2013. In Honduras, 630. According to aid groups, Guatemala only investigated 2% of women’s cases last year. In Honduras, less than 2%