Violence, Children
and Organized Crime
in the Americas

IACHR Publishes Thematic Report

Violence, Children and Organized Crime

Children and adolescents are one of the groups most impacted by the various forms of violence and violations of rights, as well as by organized crime.

Government responses are inadequate to sufficiently protect children, guarantee their rights, and prevent them from being recruited, used, and exploited by organized crime.

Policies for controlling and repressing criminal groups have led to frequent abuses and arbitrary practices carried out by law enforcement against adolescents.

Adolescents are Often Stigmatized by Society

Male teens from poor and marginal neighborhoods who belong to traditionally excluded social sectors are generally blamed for the atmosphere of insecurity and singled out as “potential dangers to society” who must be brought under control.

The consequences of this include:

Lowering the Age of Criminal Responsibility

Periodic renewed debate about lowering the age of criminal responsibility and enacting tougher sentences for adolescent offenders.

Discriminatory Monitoring

Increased police monitoring of adolescents and young people from certain social groups.

Pretrial Detention

Excessive use of pretrial detention.

Arbitrary and Illegal use of Force

Increase of arbitrary and illegal use of force against them by State agents and private individuals.

The Reality Experienced by These Adolescents can be Daunting

Many adolescents are victims of violence, abuse, and neglect in their homes, communities, and schools, at the hands of adults, peers, or even the police.


The quality of education is poor and there are many barriers to accessing higher education, work opportunities, and decent employment.


Children and adolescents often fall victim to pressure, threats, or trickery to get them to join these criminal organizations or violent groups.

Control and Repression Policies

Current hardline policies fail to take into account the specific consequences of these environments for adolescents who are unprotected and exposed to being captured and used by organized crime, becoming involved in violent and criminal activities, or becoming victims of such activities.

States not only have the obligation both to respect and not to violate human rights; they must also take the appropriate measures to ensure that such rights can be effectively enjoyed

Preventive, Holistic, and Comprehensive Approach

A more preventive, holistic, and comprehensive approach to the problem is needed, one founded on the protection and respect of human rights. In this context, children and adolescents must be seen first as victims of a series of successive violations of their rights.

Photo Credit: CIDH

Punitive and Retributive Responses

When it comes to adolescents who commit crimes, States tend to prioritize a punitive and retributive approach through the criminal justice system and incarceration, to the detriment of rehabilitation and social reintegration programs.

Restorative Justice Programs

Restorative justice programs that hold adolescents responsible for their actions without subjecting them to the prison system are almost nonexistent in the Americas.


Adolescents are locked up in very precarious conditions that do not help them reintegrate into society or reduce recidivism. This only exacerbates the problem. Some of them spend their entire adolescence deprived of liberty.