• Carlos Munoz Burgos

Crime and Violence: A youth problem in Latin America and the Caribbean (and worldwide)

Although violence is a worldwide phenomenon, the most violent region in the world is Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Despite a reduction in the number of homicides in past years, the LAC region continues leading in number of homicides worldwide. In 2013, the homicide rate for the world was estimated to be 6 homicides per 100,000 people. In LAC, this figure is up to four times higher than the rest of the world at 24 homicides per 100,000 people. Most of the homicides in LAC occur as a result of drug-related crimes, interpersonal violence, and criminal gangs. The sub-region most affected by this violence has been Central America’s Northern Triangle, where the homicide rates in 2016 in El Salvador (81.2), Guatemala (27.3), and Honduras (59) continued being alarmingly high and affecting these countries’ development.

The yearly costs of crime and violence in the region are estimated at an average of 3% of GDP. However, the costs of crime and violence in some countries, particularly in Central America, are double the regional average. The IDB estimates that the overall estimated costs of violence in the region is up to USD$236 billion (PPP), with an average cost of USD$300 per capita for each country (slightly above the minimum wage in some countries of the region!). Comparatively speaking, the costs of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean are twice the average cost in developed countries. This clearly undermines development, hurting economic growth, job creation, and economic stability.

In Latin American and the Caribbean, the main victims and perpetrators of violence are youth. In 2014, the homicide rate for men aged 15-29 in the region was estimated to be 16.7 per 100,000. Many factors at the individual, family, community, and state levels influence the high levels of violence in Latin America. These factors will be explored in depth in future posts. However, to briefly describe them, these risk factors include high levels of inequality, lack of quality education, a distorted view of masculinity, flawed policies to address crime and violence, and drug trafficking, among others.

Although youth are the main victims and perpetrators of crime and violence in the LAC region and worldwide, it is important to recognize that not all youth in communities are engaged in these types of activities. This means that there must be something, where these youth live, that is stronger than the factors that make them engage in criminal and violent behaviors. The literature calls these protective factors, and I will also explore them in depth in future posts. In fact, it is very important for both CVE and CVP to analyze protective factors, as the literature on both fields has mainly focused on risk factors.

As more than half of the world’s population is under 30, with most of it living in developing countries including the LAC region, the creation of opportunities for youth as well as an environment conducive to positive development is paramount to counter crime and violence. Despite similarities between regions in the world, the differences are also very significant. As a result, context-specific interventions are needed to prevent youth from engaging in violent behavior or joining violent groups. What strategies are available to prevent crime and violence? What can governments do to maximize their resources to reduce crime and violence? What are some of most notable best practices in crime and violence prevention around the world that can be adapted to the LAC context? The next posts will try to answer these questions.

What are your thoughts on this? Leave your comments below.