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Youth Gangs in Latin America

Over the past two decades, Latin America has experienced an unprecedented growth in violence and crime, which has been largely attributed to the emergence and proliferation of youth gangs. Across Latin America, youth gangs have therefore become a major source of fear and the prime target for repressive measures. This article debunks a number of myths associated with youth gangs in general and Latin American gangs in particular. It argues that the proportion of violent crimes committed by youth gangs is far smaller than commonly claimed. Moreover, the article shows that the extremely negative image of gangs is rooted in an originally Western concept of adolescence and youth. While many causal factors need to be considered, this article argues that structural forces such as inequality and social exclusion largely account for the widespread rise in youth gang activity across Latin America since the 1990s. The article concludes with a discussion of policy approaches.

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