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Innovation Programmes to Reach Out to Young Victims, and Perpetrators, of Drug Violence

International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

“Do drugs control your life?” asks the United Nations campaign. Drug trafficking and violent crime are threats to growth in Central America and the Caribbean. In Argentina, Colombia and Guatemala, community efforts defend young lawbreakers and gang members, achieving rehabilitation without repression.
Violent crime is a serious obstacle to economic growth in Central America and the Caribbean, according to recent UN studies. These regions have murder and violent crime rates higher than the world average, due in large part to drug trafficking. 

Tuesday, 26 June, is International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and the United Nations reminds us that no one is safe from the social impacts of illicit drugs.

In the Caribbean, young people are over-represented among the victims and authors of violent crime. Gang violence is a serious problem in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In Central America and Panama, 80% of both criminal offenders and their victims are between the ages of 12 and 25. But as the studies show, gang culture is a symptom of deep social ills that “cannot been resolved by putting street children behind bars.”
All the countries of the region are taking measures to confront the threat of illicit drugs and the violence they cause. We highlight three replicable initiatives that have been successful in helping youth and reinserting them into society. All three initiatives are finalists in the Experiences in Social Innovation competition, organized by ECLAC and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

  • In Guatemala, the Asociación Grupo Ceiba works with the community in three marginal neighbourhoods to rehabilitate children and youth from drug use and gang membership by offering them a future. Through a variety of programmes (Street University, Alternative Education, Educative Enterprise, Street Chaperone and the Central America/Mexico Youth Parliament), the project helps to remedy the damage caused by socio-economic exclusion.  It has helped more than 50,000 Guatemalan youths to overcome drug addiction and break loose from gangs. It is now aiming to keep youths from entering gangs.
    Contact: Julio César Coyoy, Executive Director
    E-mail: jccoyoy@grupoceiba.org
    Tel: (502) 5291-0667
    Website: www.grupoceiba.org

  • In Medellín, Colombia throughout the 1990s, youths from marginalized neighbourhoods ran the risk of falling victim to killings by drug cartels, the guerrilla and paramilitary forces. Recruited by warring factions, gangs found themselves at the center of a spiral of violence that has killed many youth. However, a social responsibility programme  working in this city has helped bring peace by reaching out to 2,000 individual youths – of whom 1,730 have joined the programme – and establishing minimum conditions of trust through sports and other recreational activities. The initiative conducts fairs to show school drop-outs the kinds of courses that they can take advantage of if they return to primary school. It also deals with health aspects through informational talks, medical check-ups and meetings to accompany youth in community spaces. The programme also aims to strengthen family ties and train young leaders in community service and productive enterprises.
    Contact: Diego Alberto Ruiz V. – Caja de Compensación Familiar de Antioquia
    E-mail: druiz@comfama.com.co

  • In the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the court system seeks to avoid placing youth in custody. Of the 982 youths helped to date – 70% women and 30% men – the project has registered just four instances of recidivism. While recognizing the need for young law-breakers to take responsibility for their crimes, the programme avoids sending offenders into confinement in jails and other institutional “schools for crime.” Instead, lawbreakers receive the court’s authorization to enter an alternative system where each youth is assigned a companion and a monetary stipend in exchange for his or her adherence to a Responsibility Pact. Youths receive three years of vocational training and support in independent living from a professional capable of providing emotional support and helping them embark on a new life within the law. This model is funded by special public resources from the justice, health, education and labour sector, and costs significantly less than it does to support incarcerated youth.
    Contact: Verónica Canale
    E-mail: sistemasosten@mpba.gov.ar

Complete information on this competition, including multi-media materials in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese, is posted at: http://www.cepal.org/dds/innovacionsocial/portada_i.htm.
E-mail:  innovacion.social@cepal.org. Telephones:  (56-2) 210-2148/ 2451/2263.



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