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More Mexico youths die from violence than car wrecks, report says

September 12, 2011 | 12:31 pm

Juarez drug war big picture kids sedena

As Mexico's drug war grinds on, violent homicide has overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of death of young people in the country, reports the Mexico City daily El Universal (link in Spanish).

Government statistics reviewed by the newspaper show that in 2008 and 2009, the second and third complete years of Mexico's drug war, violent deaths of people between 15 and 29 shot up about 150%. The figures rose almost equally across various narrower age brackets within that group.

Half of those homicides occurred in five states that include some of those worst hit by the current violence: Chihuahua, Baja California, Guerrero, Sinaloa and the state of Mexico, on the border with Mexico City. Violence is now the leading cause of death among Mexicans between the ages of 15 and 29, overtaking car accidents, the report said.

The federal government's database on deaths tied to organized crime shows 1,638 young people were killed in suspected drug-related attacks in 2008, a number that rose to 2,511 in 2009 and 3,741 in 2010 (graphic link in Spanish). 

Poor education and job prospects often pull young Mexicans into the poorly paid informal economy or into organized crime. Citing a congressional report, El Universal reported in June that some 23,000 young people had been recruited into the ranks of Mexico's powerful drug cartels since President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug cartels soon after taking office in 2006 (link in Spanish). The same report said the drug war has left at least 10,000 orphans.

Separately, Mexico's drug war appears be changing young people's attitudes toward security and penal measures.

A national survey on "constitutional culture" conducted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico and released in August found that the largest segment of the population that approves the use of torture and death penalty against suspected cartel criminals was between 15 and 19 years old (link in Spanish).

According to the report, that age group has the most hard-line views on security, approving of the killing of suspected drug traffickers without trial as well as the use of torture to gain information from drug suspects.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Young people pose for a cellphone portrait at the incineration of marijuana and other drugs at a military base in Ciudad Juarez in March. Credit: Gael Gonzalez / Reuters 

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