Gangs call a truce in El Salvador
El Salvador’s murder rates have long been one of the highest in the world; around 10 times the global average. Today, the amount of murders has dropped from an estimated 14 a day to five, as the country’s two most dominant gangs are holding a truce.
On 19th June, imprisoned gang members held ceremonies to mark the first 100 days of the ceasefire, and their leaders expressed a willingness to make a permanent peace pact in exchange for government support. Their demands? Gang members from El Salvador’s two dominant gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 are asking for job programmes or a form of financial aid as an alternative to gang life. The Government is yet to respond to these suggestions.
Ex-gang member, Alex Sanchez, is now executive director of Homies Unidos, an association working to get young people out of gangs. He knows first-hand how appealing gang life can seem to children. “Most people were really afraid of us. But many troubled kids in El Salvador were attracted to gangs”, Sanchez says.
Gangs offer a deceptive sense of safety and belonging to street-living children, who have often been rejected by their own families. They crave new family and friends, but often end up in a life-long commitment to gang brutality. Esteban from San Salvador says of his experience: “They taught me lots of bad things. They told me that they were my friends and I believed them. When I was 12, I did something really bad and all my so-called friends in the gang wanted to kill me. When they couldn’t find me, they attacked my family.”
Very susceptible to exploitation and abuse, many street children are living in this hostile adult environment. Toybox is dedicated to offering them a way out; back into childhood.
Toybox works with several local partners in San Salvador, striving to make sure that every measure is taken to protect children in areas with gangs. In line with our general approach, both prevention and outreach programmes are delivered through partner projects. Providing an alternative to the gang environment, the Help Home project offers support to teenage mothers and ex-street boys who have been involved with gangs. 18-year old Esteban came to the Help Home project when he escaped the gang intent on killing him. The project now provides him with comfort and care.
Esteban says: “Before, I was a really angry person. Children asked me if I wanted to play with them and I just thumped them, I was so angry. But I prayed to God not to be an angry person anymore. And I know I will overcome.” Read more of Esteban’s story here.
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