Violence against youth in El Salvador is epidemic
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador--In El Salvador, 15-year-old Julio Edgardo Rodriquez Ramirez was outside talking to his friends when a group of young men approached, told him to lie down on the sidewalk and answer their questions. He wasn't questioned; he was shot multiple times and died on the way to the hospital.
On that April day in 2008, Ramirez’s last words were, "Tell my mother what happened."
Ramirez was the child of a single mother and the oldest of four siblings. His faith was reflected in his calm, friendly relationships with others. He was an alumnus of the child development center run by The New Dawn Association of El Salvador (ANADES), a partner of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Guatemala/El Salvador.
He participated in a youth reflection group organized by ANADES that discussed El Salvadoran realities such as economic injustice and the importance of community organization. His quick, analytical mind grappled with the issues, and he asked important questions.
In November 2007, Ramirez had participated in a weeklong service retreat for 40 youth sponsored by MCC Guatemala/El Salvador and several other groups. The seminar focused on issues related to sexuality and society, including workshops on the prevention of HIV/AIDS. As part of the retreat, he also helped a family living with AIDS.
Ramirez’s story is an echo of hundreds of others happening on a daily basis around El Salvador. It reveals the violence that is provoked by economic, political and social factors. These factors have resulted in the establishment of gangs and "extermination groups" that act across the nation, causing the population to live in a state of fear.
According to an article from a Salvadoran newspaper written by reporter Juan Jose Dalton, the rate of homicides in El Salvador in 2006 was 68 per 100,000 inhabitants. The World Health Organization considers that more than 10 homicides per 100,000 is indicative of an epidemic.
Considering that El Salvador is a country made up of 70 percent youth, an analysis of the numbers of homicides by age says that this "epidemic" is mostly against children and youth, particularly males.
According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), close to 90 percent of these cases remain unsolved. This is also true of the Ramirez case, as the aggressors disappeared without any witness to identify them.
In a letter to the international community, MCC Guatemala/El Salvador, ANADES and Fundacion Hermano Mercedes Ruiz (FUNDAHMER) asks "that all in the international community to be aware of the situation in El Salvador so that you support us by denouncing these heinous acts of violence."
These groups ask that people support them by writing an email to specific entities in the Salvadoran government demanding that these acts do not continue with impunity.
Go to mcc.org/elsalvador  to find email addresses and a sample letter written in English and Spanish that can be copied and pasted.