Unreported World, El Salvador: The Child Assassins
El Salvador children are the killers in ruthless ‘game’ with guns
June 11 2010
The skinny boy pulled up his red T-shirt and patted the gun tucked into his jeans as he reminisced about the first time that he killed.
“I sprayed the bastard’s head with bullets. Man, it was completely mashed up,” he said, throwing his head back and laughing.
“That was two years ago. Since then I’ve killed so many, I don’t even know the exact number,” he said.
His friends call him Small, a nickname acquired because he was 12 years old when he began his murderous career. He is a child hitman for the notorious 18 street gang and most of his victims are from the rival Mara Salva-trucha 13 gang, also known as MS 13. They compete for territory where they rob, sell drugs and run extortion rackets, threatening businesses large and small.
There are more than 10,000 gangsters in El Salvador and gang warfare is claiming more lives than ever. The country is in the grip of the worst violence in a decade, with 12 murders every day.
Gun battles are an almost daily occurrence in poor neighbourhoods across the capital, San Salvador. Emergency services are so overstretched by the number of victims that police cars double as ambulances, ferrying bleeding bodies to hospitals.
The Government has resorted to deploying 4,000 soldiers on the streets. For the first time since the end of the civil war 18 years ago, the Salvadorean Army has been granted powers to stop and search people and set up roadblocks. Yet the killings have continued.
Even a police drive against gangsters that put more than 7,000 behind bars — a third of the national prison population — has not succeeded in stemming the bloodshed. The gangsters now run their activities from the cells.