Latin America is a region of the Americas in which the Romance languages, largely derived from Latin, are spoken. Violence, or “violencia,” is a major social problem in this region. Every day, media attention focuses on gang and drug-related violence in Latin America. International homicides, or those involving citizens of other countries, increased 50% from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, especially in Panama, Peru, and Colombia. In particular, drug-related violence in Mexico is deadly, with an estimated 13,600 people having been killed in such violence between the end of 2006 and September 2009. Globalization may cause crime and violence, in that persons seize new opportunities afforded by the interaction with other counties. A 2008 survey by Latinobarometro found citizens believed crime was the most significant problem in the region.
Additionally, rates of poverty are very high in most of Latin America. Scholars have noted that when persons are unable to afford basic necessities, they may resort to violence to meet their needs. UNICEF has reported that 39% of youth living in Latin America and the Caribbean reside in poverty. Youth unemployment, unwanted pregnancies, and substance abuse are other major issues in these areas. The region also has a long history of conquest, domination, and civil wars, which set the social stage for additional violence by citizens. UNICEF has stated that 6 million children and adolescents suffer from abuse and neglect each year, and approximately 220 children younger than the age of 18 die every day from domestic violence. In some countries in Latin American, 12% of homicide victims are younger than the age of 12, while that age group perpetrates only 1% of all homicides. Violence is the leading cause ofdeathamongmalesaged15to24intheCaribbeanandinsomecountries of Latin America. Adolescents are often recruited into hazardous work or forced labor. Many young people get involved in drug trafficking, especially in Mexico.
Young girls face different barriers. Recent reports have documented that in Latin America and other regions, girls endure high rates of sexual harassment and assault while in school, often at the hands of educators. Girls may be offered good grades in exchange for sex acts and given poor grades if they refuse to submit.
A foreign-sponsored theater program teaches Colombian school children about leadership and the justice system. (Javier Said/USAID)
In Latin America, much remains to be done to adequately respond to violence and to begin prevention programs. In Colombia and Argentina, innovative programs involving conflict resolution have been implemented in a total of 236 schools. Young people are trained and led as mediators in these initiatives.
In 2001, the government of Trinidad and Tobago announced that it planned to install metal detectors in schools in response to a surge in violence and the number of students caught carrying weapons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has collaborated with a number of groups to better analyze and respond to violence in the region. The Inter-American Coalition for the Prevention of Violence is also working to tally and analyze various forms of violence as well as increase awareness and education. In June 2007, MTV premiered a UNICEF program on bullying and terror in schools that focused on Argentina and Mexico.
- Agren, D. (2010, April 7). Cash, status lure youths to drug trade in troubled parts of Mexico. The Catholic Review. Retrieved from http://www.georgiabulletin.org/world/2010/04/07/WORLD-2/
- Girls being “raped for grades.” (2008, February 10). Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). Retrieved from http://www.awid.org/eng/Library/Girls-being-raped-for-grades
- News note. (2007, June 26). MTV Latin America and UNICEF unite efforts to present a reality which many adolescents and young people live in Latin America. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/media_40147.html
- UNICEF. (n.d.). Fast facts about adolescents and youth in Latin America and the Caribbean. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/lac/adolescents_in_LAC_Policy_guidelines.pdf
- Violence prevention. (2008, February 12). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 3, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/index.html
- Youth gangs in Latin America. (2006). SAIS Review, 26(2), 133-146.