Social Context

Since the early 1990s, youth violence has represented a major challenge to the countries of Central America. UNESCO is currently involved in various projects in the region which promote youth development and violence prevention.

Over the past decade, Central America has witnessed a serious exacerbation of youth violence. Youth gangs, such as the maras and pandillas, have expanded across the region, increasing intra-gang related violence, and affecting the local population. As a result, young people have been frequently associated with delinquency and crime, triggering the governments to adopt severe punitive measures against gang members. However, most of these young aggressors were previously victims of violence and social exclusion.

The existing social context in Central America imposes severe constraints on youth development. A considerable number of these young people grow up in extremely unstable environments,  where the lack of access to education, recreational and cultural activities, and fair working opportunities are part of their everyday reality. In addition, interfamilial violence, social disintegration, post-conflict institutional violence, and social and political marginalization contribute to the formation of this unstable climate. In this environment, some young people become involved in gangs as a means of acquiring an identity and a status within society. As a result, the process ultimately reinforces the stigma from which they suffer and their development is further restricted. >

Until recently, the governments of Central America predominately used repressive policies to deal with youth violence. However, these tactics have been ineffective. This experience shows that while repression and rehabilitation remain central strategies for combating youth violence, prevention appears to be a more efficient and sustainable approach.

Youth violence should be understood as a social phenomenon with complex roots in economic, political, cultural and social factors. Addressing this problem requires social policies that include community participation and a preventive approach to avoid the reproduction of the patterns that lead to youth violence.

In this context, UNESCO seeks to promote and reinforce national efforts in the region through the reproduction of good practices for youth and community development.

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