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Mexico Youth: The Street is Last Resort for Lack of Educational, Employment Opportunities

Angeles Cruz Martinez - La Jornada
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January 30, 2013
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Life on the Streets of Mexico City - Media Voices for Children shot this interview with fifteen-year-old Clara on the streets of Mexico City. It took a lot of time and effort to track her down and get her to trust them enough to talk to to their cameras. (Media Voices for Children)

Many Mexican teenagers are living on the streets. Some were born here and others have just arrived. While the reasons may differ, the reality is the same. They are not outside for some sort of extreme sport, but rather because it is the last place keeping them within the social order and allowing them to survive.

Anyone is at risk of ending up on the streets, either because someone cannot put his life back together after a job loss or because, as victims of abuse, mistreatment, family breakdown and, often, abandonment, children find the shelter they need outside their houses.

Luis Enrique Hernández, director of the civic organization El Caracol, warns that this problem stems from the lack of educational and employment opportunities for young people, especially those who are not recognized as citizens and their rights disregarded.

Under the current lack of stability, being on the streets always carries the risk that minors will fall under the sway of organized crime, which can offer them a seemingly easy, fun and lucrative life.

In such circumstances, it's not enough to want to reclaim public spaces (parks and gardens) without at the same time providing a support structure with social workers, for example, who can engage children and teenagers in sports, recreational activities and even educational opportunities.

That would be the best way to prevent them from falling into the traps of crime, addiction and violence. Hernández argues that although officials claim to be very concerned about the safety of young people, their actions have been completely inadequate in providing guarantees for the full exercise of their rights. It is not enough to have well-designed laws and rules that do not contain effective mechanisms for action regarding the various realities among this demographic group.

For now, says Hernández, what exist are policies criminalizing street youth (men and women), who are arrested for consuming prohibited substances on the streets; they are locked up, but are not given the tools for rehabilitation, much less those for assimilation into education or employment.

Even worse is the situation for women, teenage mothers who take their children to live on the streets. There is not support network to help them get a job, a place to live, or school funds for their children.

Without one, these young people will stay on the streets, often consuming illegal substances, with their children in institutions like the DIF [the National System for Integral Family Development, a public assistance program].

As with the street youth - everyone agrees they exist, but no one has precise information on their number, sex or age, for example - there are other groups of young people, like reggaeton-followers, who have been stigmatized, who grow and develop "as much as they can," but who still face criminalization when they commit an offense that no one was able to prevent, said the activist.

See Spanish original

Posted by Nina for Mexico Voices

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