Government officials in El Salvador and Guatemala speculate that there are approximately 15,000 gang members in each country. Meanwhile police officials attribute the majority of homicides, extortions and kidnappings to these groups, which are mainly comprised of young males between 13 and 26 years of age.
This means that mara (a regional term for gangs) membership is low when looking at overall youth demographics; in El Salvador, for example, there are over 1 million young men and women. Most young people are either going to school or working, not engaging in criminal activity. But there’s a flipside: these countries represent ample breeding ground for mara recruitment.
These 15,000 gang members also represent a complex problem. How is it possible that so few individuals have entire countries on their knees? Why haven’t governments and civil society been able to retaliate with police force and effective crime prevention programs? And certainly, how are judicial systems maintaining the interest of the majority and not that of young criminals?