The Atlantic

El Salvador's Gangs Are Targeting Young Girls

And the Trump administration’s immigration policies are certain to make it worse.
Source: REUTERS/Ulises Rodriguez

SAN SALVADOR—At dusk on a dusty soccer field in San Salvador last April, three girls sat together on a bench. Dani, 12, and Sofia, 16, regularly played soccer with the boys; Diana, Sofia’s 14-year-old cousin, came to watch. What else do you do for fun?, I asked them. They scuffed their shoes in the dirt, uncertain how to respond. So I told them what I did at their age: Played in my suburban neighborhood, or drove around town. Sofia’s eyes grew wide. “At night? Without your parents?” Dani asked. “So cool!” Diana exclaimed. When I told them that American teenagers often took buses or subways to get around town, Dani declared: “You have all the freedom in the world.” To them, such freedom was unfathomable. Their parents only allowed them to leave the house for soccer or school. “Here it’s dangerous because of the gangs,” Dani explained. “You can’t go out now.” Even at school, they felt insecure, Diana added. “Anybody can come in.”

In El Salvador, a small country of some , the defense ministry has estimated that more than Salvadorans are involved with gangs. (This number includes gang members’ relatives and children who have been coerced into crimes.) Turf wars between MS-13, the country’s largest gang, and its chief rivals, two homicide rate for people under the age of 19. In 2016, Salvadoran minors were murdered—an average of 1.5 every day.

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