Meanwhile... in Guerrero, Mexico

"I can defend myself with a gun, not with a book." Boys between six and 15 have joined a local militia in Mexico to push back against drug cartels.

A child militia stands strong

Alexander is a member of the child militia in Guerrero, Mexico. “I joined this group to protect our town,” he explains. He confirms that he is capable and has fired a gun before. He was asked how he felt the first time he fired it which he replied, “I was afraid but now there's no fear when I use it.” In Mexico, Alexander is marching, weapons in hand, surrounded by some 20 kids in the streets of his village. This is not an uncommon sight for his town. “I can defend myself with the gun, I can't with a book,” Alexander declares. The kids are between 6 and 15 years old, and they’ve just joined a local militia responsible for the villagers’ safety.

A day in the life of a child in the militia

That day, instead of going to school, Alexander and the other children are learning how to use weapons to fight and defend themselves against criminal groups, such as Los Ardillos’ local cartel. “I actually wanted to go to school but now we can't. The school we go to is where the Ardillos go, so we can't go. That's why our only option was to join the police to defend our town,” he shares. This is taking place in the heart of the Mexican state Guerrero, the largest opium producer in Mexico, where massacres and kidnappings are part of these children’s daily lives.

A few days before the children took up weapons, the local cartel was suspected of murdering 10 members of the village. After a local media broadcast this footage, the Guerrero government asked the militia training the children to respect the rights of minors. Héctor Astudillo Flores, Governor of Guerrero, states, “There is great anger, which is understandable, but it’s also our duty to make an appeal so that the children, according to the Mexican Constitution, are protected.”

“We want justice, we want the guilty to be caught, those who are massacring our people.”

In 2019, the homicide rate in Mexico hit a record high of 34,582 which means four people are killed every hour. Javier Sicilia, a poet, claims, “It’s a disgrace that nobody has assumed or addressed a correct state policy, so the pain, the death, the brutal crimes continue happening day by day, and are sadly increasing.” The country has been riddled with organized crime and drug trafficking since the 1990s.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico, acknowledges, “The majority of these criminal acts are committed by young drug traffickers.” In Mexico, the war on drugs is mostly fought at a local level. Since 2011, civilians have been forming self-defense militias to denounce the inaction and corruption of law enforcement. “We’re protected because they’re here. We feel protected, it's a good thing that they’re here. But we don't want soldiers or police officers because they’re too violent. However, some vigilante groups ended up being infiltrated by members of the cartels,” Guadalupe Melgar Perez, an Antunez resident shares.