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UNICEF-supported study sheds light on gangs in Honduras

© Courtesy: Honduras Government/2012
(Left-right) PNPRRS Representative Felipe Morales and UNICEF Representative in Honduras Cristian Munduate present ‘Status of Gangs in Honduras’ to the First Lady of Hodnuras, Rosa Elena de Lobo.

By Marcos González

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, 2 July 2012 – More than 4,700 children and young people belong to gangs in Honduras. Social exclusion and lack of opportunities are some of the factors that drive them to join these dangerous groups.

This is one of the conclusions of the report ‘Status of Gangs in Honduras’, which was released earlier this month by the National Programme of Prevention, Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration (PNPRRS), with support from UNICEF.

Reaching at-risk youth

Gangs have specialized in drug trafficking, kidnappings, killings and extortion; they are responsible for much of the violence and insecurity present in Honduras. According to the latest report of the Observatory of Violence, the country recorded 20 violent deaths every day. According to the United Nations 'Global Study on Homicides', Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, at 82.1 killings per 100,000 inhabitants.

The study calls for new strategies to meet the needs of the populations most at risk of joining gangs: vulnerable children and young people, orphans and those without access to public services.

It affirms the need to prioritize preventive social work in the most troubled areas of the country as well as the need to invest in education and employability. It also supports the importance of rehabilitation programmes in prison for former gang members who want to re-join society.

Gang life

The study engaged 4,728 people who belong to gangs in Honduras, including 447 in detention centres. Sixty per cent of the members live in San Pedro Sula, and 21 per cent in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Researchers studied the territorial control exercised by gangs in various cities, including neighbourhoods and areas where there are no police, places known as ‘lawless zones’.

Women make up 20 per cent of these groups, generally performing tasks that expose them to possible arrest, such as selling drugs. They are often sexually exploited by other gang members. None of the women in the study had access to positions of higher authority.

As part of the study, gang members and former gang members participated in a survey revealing that most had joined between 11 and 20 years old. “We were adopted," they say.

Those who left gangs faced few opportunities because of their limited educations and because of the lack of rehabilitation services in prisons. Most said they wanted only to find a job, stressing the importance of Government rehabilitation services – including study aids, counselling and legal advice – for reintegration into society. They also emphasized the importance of eliminating stigma and persecution for those leaving gangs. 

Effects on the community

Gangs are known to target schools, bullying students, stealing their money, issuing threats and creating a climate of fear. In five secondary schools in Central District, 91 per cent of teachers surveyed said that their schools are affected by this violence and harassment.

As a result, many students stop attending class, begin to behave aggressively, or even choose to join the gangs. Other times, parents will move their children to different schools, relocate to less violent neighbourhoods, or, if possible, hire private security.

Still, a small proportion of people have a positive impression of the gangs. The study reveals that gangs sometimes reach out to needy families, providing food, school supplies or other assistance, to improve their reputation and strengthen their role in the community. As a result, some groups say the presence of gangs makes them more safe and secure.

A guide to prevention

The PNPRRS and UNICEF delivered the study to the First Lady of Honduras, Rosa Elena de Lobo, who said that it is "extremely useful to guide prevention and care programmes in the problem of violence."

PNPRRS Representative Felipe Morales said the study would help "build an arm of the state and find better alternatives for these at-risk youth."

UNICEF Representative in Honduras Cristian Munduate said the issue must not be treated with indifference. "Everyone has a role to ensure a full life in the context of rights for the children in each community.”

UNICEF supported 'Status of Gangs in Honduras' with technical and budgetary assistance. It also supports the programme ‘Deletion and New life’, which aims to reintegrate former gang members into society through rehabilitation programmes and tattoo removal.



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