Youth are overrepresented both as victims and perpetrators of violent crime in the Americas. Children, as young as 12, in countries like El Salvador are recruited into gangs. The Latin American Technological Information Network has found that a young person in Latin America is 30 times more likely to be murdered than a young person from Europe. Moreover, the short- and long-term costs of youth delinquency take a heavy toll on the potential development of the region. According to the World Bank, youth violence costs Latin American and Caribbean countries an average of 1.4 percent of their GDP each year. The urgency to address this crisis is clear.
Youth crime and violence in the Americas stem from poverty and inequality, lack of opportunities, lack of access to formal and alternative forms of education, lack of constructive leisure activities, and lack of employment opportunities in the formal economy. They are also the result of governments' failure to invest sufficient resources to raise the standard and quality of living of those on the margins of society.
The nations of the Western Hemisphere have the primary responsibility to address the root causes of crime and insecurity that adversely impact the region's youth. Governments should engage local communities in developing effective protective and preventive measures that provide constructive alternatives to crime and violence. Such investment in youth will generate positive impacts now and well into the future.
We can draw inspiration and determination to do more when we see young women and men who already demonstrate leadership and show how individuals can make a difference. For example, Mayerly Sanchez Clavijo founded the Children's Movement for Peace in Colombia at age 12 in response to the violence in her war-torn country. Mayerly's movement was the first children's movement nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998, and it has been nominated multiple times since then. Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica (YCWJ), a youth-led crime prevention initiative, has become one of the most effective community policing organizations in the country. YCWJ was originally launched under Ambassador Sue Cobb's “Building Bridges” project. We can only imagine what the future would hold if we could help more Mayerlys and projects like YCWJ reach their full potential.