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Column 032513 Thompson

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gangsters using Children to commit Crime in Mexican Tourist Areas

By Barnard R. Thompson

Actor, film personage and politician Clint Eastwood is widely quoted on the Internet as having once said, "Crimes against children are the most heinous crime. That, for me, would be a reason for capital punishment because children are innocent and need the guidance of an adult society." And, without getting into the death penalty debate, there are surely vast numbers of Mexicans who agree with protecting their precious children through every means and castigation possible as they grow to become honorable and contributing citizens.

Still, there are some, apparently foreign and domestic, unfeeling miscreants who are pressing children into crime, as organized crime perpetrators in Mexico traffic in children, especially those living on the margins of society and below the poverty and food-based-poverty lines. Youngsters who become virtually enslaved, and forced to beg, steal and do far worse. Much of this begging and thievery not unlike the use and practices of gypsy children in Europe.

Moreover, affluent resort locations in particular are being targeted, like for example the Cabo San Lucas-Los Cabos tourist mecca.

Earlier this month, the Citizens' Public Security and Penal Justice Council in Baja California Sur, that includes the Cabos, reported that juveniles are being abducted in different Mexican states, and then brought to the southern tip of the peninsular state. And there, according to Council president Silvia Lupián, they beg and sell gum in and around the vacation center of Cabo San Lucas, but too they are robbing and extorting tourists, Lupián said.

Local community groups and organizations have told the Council that the children are not the sons or daughters of the criminals. Brought from other states to be exploited in Cabo San Lucas, the children do not go to school whereas they are used at night for their handler's business and to commit crimes, Lupián told a reporter from the Mexico City daily La Jornada.

As one example, they stuff the slots of ATM machines with paper, choking the machines so that cash withdrawn using a debit or credit card is not expelled. Their adult accomplices then stroll up, offering to show card using victims the way to another ATM, and then the minors take out the clogged-up money, she added.

Lupián noted that while federal, military and state officials are aware of the situation, which they have discussed in meetings, no real action has been taken to protect the young or to punish those responsible. Even so, a few of the adults and children have been arrested, she said, however they are quickly released due to inadequate local laws and the lack of a juvenile facility to house the rescued children.

In another incident, in Cancún (which may be different circumstances than those in Los Cabos), on March 20 an 11-year-old girl was arrested on charges of selling marijuana and crack, according to news reports. Stopped by police for riding a motorcycle recklessly, the officers decided to search her belongings due to her nervousness while being questioned. Two bags of marijuana and crack were found, and she confessed that they were for sale - identifying her supplier only as "Jonathan" and "el Johnny," and noting he had also given her the motorcycle.

Aside from tourist venues for a moment, some of the more sensational stories on juvenile criminals have been those on youthful hit men, forced, lured or recruited into crime by Mexican drug lords and gangs. One of the most publicized child assassins having been "the child hit man," Edgar Jiménez (nicknamed "El Ponchis"), who admitted to killing four people. This after having been kidnapped and intimidated into service by drug dealers when he was 11-years-old, goons who he claims drugged him and threatened to kill him if he did not carryout their orders. Jiménez confessed to authorities following his arrest at the age of 14.

According to the Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico, a non-governmental organization, no precise data on the number of juveniles involved with organized crime groups is available. However, officials of that organization estimate that from 15,000 to 20,000 children are victims of "narco-exploitation" in one way or another, whereas others estimate the total as high as 30,000 teenagers and preteens.

It must be noted, with respect to the United Nation's Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that last February - after 12 years of refusing to accept responsibility - the Mexican government changed its position and withdrew its objection regarding the UN mandate to avoid, at all costs, minors being drawn into organized crime. Mexico had refused to accept Article 4 of the Convention.

Article 4 says:
1. Armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.
2. States Parties shall take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use, including the adoption of legal measures necessary to prohibit and criminalize such practices.
3. The application of the present article shall not affect the legal status of any party to an armed conflict.

This prohibits the recruitment of children not only into regular armies, but also in all kinds of "non-State" armed forces, including in the case of Mexico paramilitary units and organized crime groups.

The UN Convention was signed by Mexico in 2000, with the subsequent caveat that responsibilities related to armed non-State groups, regarding the recruitment of persons under the age of 18 or using them in hostilities, corresponds exclusively to such groups and not the Mexican State.

Another group of vulnerable children are unaccompanied non-Mexican underage migrants, and the Chamber of Deputies forwarded a bill to the Senate last February that includes legal provisions designed to guarantee the protection of, and assistance to, children traveling through Mexico. With a goal of protecting the human rights of juveniles, among other things the initiative requires the National Migration Institute to report underage detainees to consulates.

As well, on March 21 Mexico's Chamber of Deputies published a pronouncement urging the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, the National Migration Institute, and the National System for the Integral Development of the Family to prepare a trustworthy shared database on unaccompanied children who are repatriated from the USA, this primarily to protect them prior to family reunification.

So, with a good deal of important legislative and regulatory work being implemented in order to safeguard and protect children, all concerned can but hope that Mexico's law enforcement, judiciary and system (the Establishment) will function properly and serve, and be up to their daunting yet much needed tasks.

Touristically (and otherwise), connected to all of this is also the frightening possibility of the sexual exploitation of children in resort areas, tourist destinations and elsewhere, and while this was not mentioned in the case of Baja California Sur it is certainly a concern - especially since the state has apparently failed to promulgate certain applicable laws and safeguards according to Silvia Lupián.

In 2011 Mexico enacted the "National Code of Conduct for the Protection of the Rights of Boys, Girls and Adolescents in the Travel and Tourism Sector," with the intent of not only protecting children's rights, but too in order to avoid sexual abuse in tourist centers. A Code of Conduct that was signed by most entities involved in the tourism and travel industries, plus a number of government ministries, agencies and offices.

Following the Code of Conduct signing ceremony, then Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara said that some 10,000 children are victims of sexual abuse in Mexico (presumably on an annual basis). And she emphasized that "tourists who want to sexually exploit children and young people, practices that are not tolerated, are not welcome" in Mexico.

Calling this a "serious problem," the former secretary added that it is an issue that "we are not ignoring and (that) we will face with responsibility."

At the end of the signing ceremony of the "unprecedented" accord, Guevara congratulated the signatories for their work in drafting the Code of Conduct. Furthermore, she called on all present to work with their state and municipal governments to become cosigners, with the goal of converting the Code into an ethical and moral guide in order to do away with sexual abuse nationwide.

Thusly, the Code should be a tool in the fight against the criminal exploitation of children in the Los Cabos area - yet too many Baja California Sur located authorities, according to Lupián, would seem to be satisfied with the status quo.

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Barnard Thompson, editor of MexiData.info, has spent 50 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing multinational clients with actionable intelligence; country and political risk reporting and analysis; and business, lobbying, and problem resolution services.


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