How Mexico’s Drug Cartels Recruit Child Soldiers as Young as 11

Robert Beckhusen
April 1, 2013



In case you thought Mexican drug cartels had sunk as low as they could get, a new report details how they use children as young as 11 years old to do their murderous bidding.

In the last decade, the cartels “have recruited thousands of street gang members, school drop-outs and unskilled workers,” (.pdf) the International Crisis Group recently reported. The ICG, a non-government organization that seeks to prevent conflict, notes many of these “recruits” — to use a clumsy term — are younger than 18, considered expendable, and deliberately ordered to attack superior Mexican military forces.

According to military officers interviewed by the organization, the “cartel bosses will treat the young killers as cannon fodder, throwing them into suicidal attacks on security forces.”

First, the children are enticed or manipulated into joining the cartels, and given basic weapons instruction at training camps, many of which have been discovered in the jungles along the Guatemalan border. The weapons are varied, ranging from AR-15 rifles to Uzi submachine guns, and .38 and 9-mm caliber pistols. Next, the kids are put into cells led by experienced cartel soldiers, who have some prior training with the military or police.

One Mexican army lieutenant colonel told the ICG: “We will go on patrol and face an ambush by these young kids who don’t even know how to shoot.” The soldiers see little choice but to shoot back at children. And they do know how to shoot.

“When you have disciplined soldiers they are going to win in these shoot-outs,” the officer said. “But then maybe the troops are being held up, while the bad guys are moving drugs or carrying out a murder somewhere else. And by attacking the army, they are trying to show the population that they have the power.”

To strengthen their control in cartel-held towns, the killers are augmented by lookouts, or “hawks.” Like in U.S. cities, the lookouts, equipped with cellphones or radios, are positioned at distances of two or three city blocks. Their job is to call other cartel members if the military or police are entering an area. “When we get close, they know we are coming and change direction,” the officer told ICG.

Read the full article—How Mexico’s Drug Cartels Recruit Child Soldiers as Young as 11