Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Central America - Gang Membership on the Rise

In comparison to the United States and Europe, youth gangs are relatively new in Central America. Governments are taking a hardline, hoping that deterrents such as increased sentences for gang members over others committing the same crimea will help decrease their numbers.

Gangs are often a replacement for other affiliations that are missing in the lives of children: homelife, church, wholesome community activities. Young gang members can be turned around. Goveernments and communities must be willing to replace the lure of the gangs with something positive, not just more draconian laws outlawing gangs. For instance, along with passing laws, Nicaragua is doing something positive.

"About 90 percent of the gang members we have worked with want to get into the program; there is an enormous will among these kids to get out of the gangs and out of the violence," Gurdián says.

Using government and private-sector contacts the program has placed former gang members in jobs in public works, in factories, and even as security guards - this in a country with soaring unemployment.


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