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Youth Violence and Citizen Security in Central America’s Northern Triangle

Date Published: 
January 8, 2016

Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, collectively known as the “Northern Triangle” of Central America have consistently been ranked in the top five most violent countries in the world as defined by the per-capita intentional homicide rate. Honduras has topped this list every year since 2008, and in all three countries, the homicide rate has been increasing since 2004. The violence in this region has had a negative impact on development, undermining poverty reduction efforts, economic development, governance, health, and social and human capital. These issues also have significant negative impacts on the education system, the ability of youth (particularly young men) to find paid labor, and an overall fear of young men. 

The drivers of violence in these three countries are complex and interwoven. Gangs, organized crime, and narcotrafficking are certainly a serious threat in the region, though in some areas gangs offer a form of policing and protection that are otherwise inadequate or neglected by weak governments. Weak judicial, penal, and policing systems result in relative impunity for committing crimes, and in many cases, these systems are directly or indirectly involved in violence. Issues of rapid urbanization, high unemployment, high levels of school dropout or non-participation, inequalities in social and economic opportunities, social exclusion of youth and marginalized peoples, and an acceptance of violence as “macho” are but some of the drivers and risk factors associated with violence in the Northern Triangle. 

The increasing levels of violence in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are a growing and pressing issue for citizen security within the region. Reversing it requires community capacity building at multiple levels from building social capital, strengthening institutional capacity, improving economic opportunities, increasing services such as health and education, providing alternatives for youth to escape from intra-household violence, and more. This requires an understanding of the social, economic, political, epistemic, and institutional challenges associated with youth violence risk factors. This paper provides an overview of the current situation in the Northern Triangle, the risk factors for youth violence, current interventions, and the recommendations that have been put forth by various organizations.