A video circulating on social media platforms zeros in on kids imitating gangsters and pretending to be drug traffickers for a cartel at the side of a highway in the state of Sinaloa in western Mexico. The activities of hitmen, witnessed by children on a regular basis, have become quite familiar to minors.
Such scenes as those portrayed in the viral video are, as a result, not uncommon in Mexico. In the past, there have been numerous viral videos from the country. These have exposed the implications of organized crime and narcoculture and have received widespread criticism from social media users.
In the latest video to have gone viral, three children appear in the footage. One of the children, his faced covered with a scarf, is supposedly “masked” and wearing all the relevant hitmen attire down to the cardboard “bullet-proof” vest. Two children are donning helmets and toy weapons.
The masked child stops a passing car to interact with and question the driver about his destination. The driver responds that he is on his way to a “pantheon,” a metaphorical term used to describe a group of particularly respected and important people. The child allows him to continue on his way.
One of the other two children who then approaches the vehicle with a toy handgun signals to the driver to keep moving forward and says, “Pass him, pass him.”
The particular video was shared by countless individuals and resulted in outraged comments, including one from the journalist Héctor de Mauleón, who wrote: “This country has already sunk.”
Este país ya se hundió. pic.twitter.com/O9rbfTSjHv
— Héctor de Mauleón (@hdemauleon) December 31, 2022
The Sinaloa Cartel
The Sinaloa Cartel, established in the 1980s, is one of the largest international organized crime rings. It is most well known for illegal trafficking of drugs and money laundering. The organization is presently managed by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia.
El Mayo is one of the most wanted drug traffickers by the United States State Department. He took over the cartel following the apprehension of “El Chapo” Guzmán in 2016.
The Sinaloa Cartel is so active in Mexico, particularly in the state of Sinaloa, that it is difficult to keep their activities under the radar and away from the eyes of children. Hence, minors have often been observed—and filmed—playing hitmen rather than cops and robbers—or firefighters or first responders as is usually most developmentally appropriate—in those parts of the country.
Opinions on allowing children to partake in such play have differed drastically. Nevertheless, it did not take long for individuals to become distraught and express their frustration upon seeing yet another video in which organized crime and mature topics are obviously on the minds of children.
Some people believe that it is acceptable for children to pretend they are members of a cartel and that this does not hinder or harm their development. Yet others do understandably find it upsetting that children have become accustomed to the idea of violence in the country from such a young age.
Kids playing the “cops and narcos” game for years
According to Reuters, parents in the more violence-prone cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana on the U.S. border claimed their primary school kids were fascinated by drug gangs.
They witnessed gang members flashing firearms, driving sleek black SUVs, and outsmarting police officers, all of which can be quite impressive to naïve minors.
Consequently, instead of playing cops and robbers or admiring firemen or train drivers, children are devising games involving kidnappings and even forming playground gangs named after violent drug cartels, which they have come to idolize.
The power of kingpins whose turf wars have resulted in the deaths of approximately twenty-three thousand people since the end of 2006 seems to fascinate children living in the midst of such social dynamics.
The kids in the drug cartels
According to ReDim Executive Director Tania Ramirez Hernández, between 145,000 and 250,000 minors are currently working for Mexico’s drug cartels.
Ramirez Hernández revealed these statistics in a news conference, noting that the “State of Mexico, Jalisco, Chiapas, Puebla, Guanajuato, Veracruz, and Michoacán” are the places where a majority of children are kidnapped by drug traffickers and forced into child labor in illegal organizations.
Finally, it was mentioned that the actual recruitment of children into various ranks and positions within such organizations is influenced by more than just financial hardships in families.
Children have come to normalize the presence of armed individuals in city streets and have been exposed to crimes by organizations and gang members from a young age. Hence, they are unable to properly and objectively evaluate the dangers and consequences of organized crime.