By Sarah Adamo
Facing indefinite terms of safety in the secluded, mountainous region of western Mexico’s Guerrero state, children as young as six are learning to defend themselves and their community against increasing criminal activity, according to CNN.
They are trained by a local volunteer police group, referred to as the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities- Community Police (CRAC-PC), which was formed in 2014 and is led by Bernardino Sánchez Luna, according to CNN. The training of youths first began two months ago and has since turned into an ongoing endeavor.
Guerrero state registered an estimated 1,891 intentional homicides in 2019, according to CNN, which makes up a significant portion of the 35,588 murders committed across Mexico for the year, as released by the National Public Safety Secretariat.
With turf wars heating up between drug cartels, locals in Guerrero insist that they must teach their children potentially life-saving self-defense if they do get caught in the crossfire, CNN reported.
According to The Washington Post, dangerous cartels are gaining access to military-grade weapons in areas such as the northwestern capital of Culiacán or Ayahualtempa, a village of 600 indigenous people that confronts a local coalition called Los Ardillos, which exerts vigilante power over the neighboring town.
The presence of Los Ardillos, combined with the lack of education and health services available for the Guerrero children, it is clear that children must learn to defend themselves, CNN explains.
“‘I don’t want to carry this weapon, I don’t, but the criminals have forced us to,’” CRAC-PC member Jose, whose two sons are also members of CRAC-PC, said to CNN. “‘We have to defend our people.’”
To raise awareness about the militia and its fight against the rampant violence, CRAC-PC’s leaders partner with local journalists who take photos of the young males involved in the self-defense militia, The Washington Post informs. It also serves as an appeal to the state and federal governments to take action — coverage of child involvement is a poignant tool for petitioning.
The Los Angeles Times reported that human rights officials are expressing concern over the training of minors, accusing CRAC-PC of child abuse.
Others have pointed to international human rights laws that bar the enlistment of children under the age of 15 into an armed group, condemning this action as a war crime, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“‘They must be prepared,’” Luna said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “‘If they (the children) are afraid, the criminals will kill them like little chickens.’”