We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.


UNICEF-supported programme aims to rehabilitate ex-gang members in Honduras

© UNICEF Honduras / 2011 / R. Castro
Óscar and Brenda, with their family, in their house in the New Jerusalen hood. Their lives changed completely the day they decided to give up 'maras'.

By Marcos Gonzalez

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, 12 October 2011 - Oscar, 25, has lived a good deal of his childhood and adolescence as a member of gang 18, one of the biggest and most violent currently operating in Honduras. He was barely nine years old when he dropped out of school and joined the gang. Alone in the world, his fellow gang members became his family.

“My parents were dead,” he said. “I felt that they gave me the affection that I needed.”

Crime, jail and freedom

During his tenure with the gang, Oscar participated in drug trafficking, robberies and even homicides - a terrifying road which eventually led him to jail at the age of 18.

While incarcerated, driven by a strong faith and religious conviction, he decided to quit the gang and start a new life. But it was not easy.

“When I decide to retire, things change,” recalled Oscar. “The gang was no longer my family, there was no longer love but hatred, a great rejection, scorn, insults and blows.”

In order to be allowed to leave the group, he had to endure daily beatings from his former ‘friends’. Occasionally the attacks would last more than seven hours, but Oscar accepted it as the price he had to pay for his freedom.

© UNICEF Honduras / 2011 / R. Castro
The doctor Enoc Padilla uses the machine that allows the deletion of the tattoos on the skin.

“It is not easy to make such a decision, because one can even be killed,” he said.

Deletion and new life

As he attempted to reintegrate into society, Oscar ran up against many challenges. His lack of education or technical skills, absence of family support as well as his tattoos made it difficult for him to gain his footing.

Oscar began to participate in the UNICEF-supported programme ‘Deletion and New Life’, which enables former gang members to have their tattoos removed. In addition, ex-members are provided with drug and alcohol counseling as well as job training.

Today only very small traces of ink remain from the tattoos that once marked Oscar’s back, arms and legs.

“In the chest I had four letters with my nickname in the gang, but the machine burned everything,” he said. “Small particles still remain, but I will eliminate them shortly.”

Helping others

Oscar’s life today bears little resemblance to his adolescent years. Married with six children, he is a volunteer with the Prevention Program of Violence and Gangs, which supports other young people who also wish to leave their gangs and change their lives.



New enhanced search