Monday, February 15, 2010

Caught in a different war at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Children who live in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico are trapped in a different type of war, not one waged between governments but between drug cartels. Safety prevents many children from even receiving an education in Ciudad Juarez. Even if the streets were safe many families could not afford the costs for education that is not free for that region of Mexico. All of this this makes entering the drug trade an attractive option to earn a lot of money fast for pre-teens without an education.

From a series of articles they do for the Canadian Press, Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founders of Free The Children profileone child who hopes for a better future. We found this article at the Vancouver Sun.

When Beatriz drew a picture of what she wants to be when she grows up, the 11-year-old sketched a policewoman.

She drew a smiling face with "polecia" written underneath. Hearts, stars and open-toothed grins created a border.

It's quite the dream growing up in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Most of the criminals she will fight belong to drug cartels contributing to increasing levels of violence, corruption and murder.

"Often there are large families and a lot of kids. They can't feed themselves, so their parents can't afford to send everyone to school," says Charlene Golding who runs a U.S.-based organization called Juarez Kids with her daughter Caroline. "By nine years of age, they need to work to bring home money."

For some, that money will come from factory work. Others will choose the drug trade.

On a mission to Juarez in 2007, Golding and her daughter met Beatriz amid what they call "the war next door." Within 20 minutes of the El Paso, Texas border, they were confronted by families living in homes made of cardboard with no running water or electricity.

On top of this, they learned Beatriz needed between $125 and $165 for tuition, uniform and books as education isn't free. This was too much for her parents. They are among many poor families who migrated to the border region in search of low-paying factory jobs.

The Goldings began fundraising for scholarships. Around the world, education has proven to be a crucial factor in fighting poverty. If Beatriz had money for school, she could fulfil her dream, support her family and create a better life for her own children. But, when their next trip was cancelled for security reasons, it became clear financial security can't provide physical security.

Last year, more than 2,600 murders occurred in Juarez, up from 1,600 in 2008. About 134 minors were killed in the crossfire as rival drug cartels strive for power. The situation is such that on Oct. 30, a local newspaper announced the first murder-free day in 10 months.

"At this point you wonder are these kids even safe," says Golding. "When they are sending in troops and there's extortion going on, education is great but we're talking about are these kids even safe at this point."

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