Across our world, gangs have a stronghold on countless lives. Violence and addiction follow gang members and their families from generation to generation. It’s difficult, like many global issues, to put a number on the impact that gangs are having today. Many children are born into gangs and gang violence. Drug dependency traps children early into a reliance on gang members, and these kids find themselves subjected to slavery through forced child labor or prostitution to satisfy their addiction.
Street gangs focus on local crime like robbery, drug dealing, and selling stolen guns or cars. Described by some as the “foot-soldiers” of organized crime, these gangs can also be involved in the sex trade, including the trafficking of people for sex or as drug mules. Other gangs are involved in more “sophisticated” crimes like counterfeit goods.
In the US, where there’s an assortment of youth and ethnically based gangs, a 2001 survey found that 59% of all homicides in Los Angeles and 53% in Chicago were gang related.
This frightening trend is mimicked in many places throughout our world, especially in Central and South America. Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are at the core of the gang crisis, with some of the highest homicide rates in the world.
At the end of 2003 there were a known 36,000 gang members in Honduras alone.
Similarly, there were around 39,000 gang members in El Salvador.
In Guatemala there are estimates of between 14,000 to a massive 165,000 gang members.
Gang members are widely seen as criminals, so the violence they themselves encounter on a daily basis is often thought to be deserved. However, those of us in a gang, or once in a gang, would testify that most members are trapped… Whether the gang provides, drugs or alcohol for an addiction, food, shelter, or protection… becoming free from gang membership, especially out of the context of poverty is very difficult.
We need to be ready for compassion… to love at all times. How can we help those of us ensnared by gangs? What alternatives can we provide to free people from their reliance on gangs? How can we provide protection? Food? Shelter? Employment? Safety?
Sometimes one idea is all that it takes… but who of us is willing to think about it…?
For more info, visit:
UNODC, ‘Studies on Drugs and Crime’
USAID (2006) Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, Annex 3: Honduras Profile
USAID (2006) Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, Annex 1: El Salvador Profile
UNODC (2005) ‘Transnational Organised crime in the West African Region’