Youth, Violence, & Economic Opportunities in Central America: Breaking Territorial Stigmas, Building Effective Solutions
Five of the top countries in the world with the highest youth homicide rates are in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala), more than 70,000 young people are part of gangs. A similar phenomenon occurs in some cities of South America, such as Cali (Colombia). Young people are most affected by violence and exposed to it, both as victims and as perpetrators. Youth from at-risk communities are being structurally excluded from the labor market, and one out of four young people are not in education, employment, or training. As per research supported by IDRC, social barriers and stigma discriminate youth based on a perceived risk associated with communities and territories that are considered ‘dangerous’. Control of territories by rival groups prevent mobility and access to both education and employment. Furthermore, confronted with exclusion and rejection by society, youth see an inherent attractiveness of becoming involved in illicit activities run by youths. In addition, the private sector has rigid entry barriers with a strong underlying bias against hiring youth from marginalized neighborhoods. Youth marginalization and lack of hope and opportunities increases insecurity. This creates a vicious circle and a strong stigma: youth from at-risk communities in these countries are seen as a problem.
IDRC partnered with FLACSO Costa Rica in support of projects examining the relationships between youth economic opportunities and violence in five different Latin American countries. Nine local initiatives in these countries, which are part of a regional program coordinated by those two institutions, are testing solutions to these problems. Among them are the ones carried out by Glasswing International in the capital of El Salvador, and the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia. Does providing youth economic opportunities reduce violence? Are youth more violent due to the lack of opportunities? How do different forms of violence impact youth trajectories? Which are the mechanisms by which violence and economic opportunities affect each other? Our breakout session will discuss how violence and youth opportunities interact and how the high violence/low opportunities equilibrium in the region can be addressed. The session will discuss learning and evidence to improve policies and programs to be more effective in reducing youth violence and exclusion.