Creative Launches New Employment Program for Ex-Gang Members in Honduras and Convenes Juvenile Justice Workshops

August 27, 2008


One hundred former gang members in Honduras will be paired with employers and mentors in the latest implementation of Desafio 100, or Challenge 100, a signature approach of Creative Associates International’s efforts in Latin America that help youth acquire the job skills they need to assimilate into society and advance in life.

Desafio 100 is being implemented in selected neighborhoods where cycles of poverty make youth vulnerable to gang recruitment. Creative’s Alianza Joven Regional (AJR), in partnership with Paz y Convivencia Ciudadana (P&C), plans to open four outreach centers for vulnerable communities to reinsert youth into civic life.

Developed by Creative, the outreach center model provides a safe haven for youths to learn basic vocational skills and use their free time in positive ways, such as computer literacy. For long-term sustainability, P&C will finance 50 percent of the cost of the outreach centers so that operations can continue after AJR ends.

Creative developed Desafio 100 for a predecessor USAID-funded project in Guatemala, Programa Alianza Joven. AJR’s implementation of this approach will also be replicated in El Salvador and further diffused in Guatemala. Now that the first Desafio 100 participants in Guatemala have been successfully reintegrated, another group of former gang members will begin the program in that country.

A former Guatemalan employer along with a former gang member who received an opportunity under AJR, have been invited by UNESCO to present on their experiences at an international seminar to be held in Bahrain.

In its first few months of implementation, AJR has also held three juvenile justice workshops in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Workshop participants discussed the current situation of juvenile justice in their respective countries, as well as identified problems, weaknesses and challenges. All three workshops revealed similar challenges, including: the lack of integrated approaches toward improving juvenile justice, the challenges of coordination and collaboration between juvenile justice sector operators and institutions, and the lack of investment in the development of policies and programs for youth.

AJR is a direct response to the public security, investment and development challenges caused by gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The project is implemented by Creative Associates International, Inc. with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“The impressive turnout at the workshops, whose participants included Supreme Court Magistrates, high government officials, juvenile judges and recognized civil society experts and leaders, signals the deep need in the three countries to discuss in-depth the situation of juvenile justice in the region,” said Salvador Stadthagen, AJR’s Project Director. “The fact that the results of this workshop process will eventually be brought to the platform of the Central American Integration System (SICA), through the organization of a Regional Forum sponsored by the major regional integration institutions, will be a major contribution to helping form consensus toward a legal framework for juvenile justice in Central America.”

In El Salvador, the participants agreed that the Juvenile Criminal Law is one of the best in the region but its application is uneven. After an extensive discussion, the group identified the central problem of juvenile justice in El Salvador as, “the incoherence between formal recognition and effectiveness in fulfilling youth and children’s rights.”

Similarly, in Guatemala, participants discussed what should be the country’s priorities regarding juvenile justice and agreed that even if there was an adequate legal framework, still lacking are prevention policies, targeted programs and investment.

In Honduras, the conversation focused on the lack of adequate rehabilitation programs for youth who run afoul of the law. A major problem for Honduras is the current over-capacity of youth correction centers. As in Guatemala, participants agreed that even if there is an existing legal framework, its application of the law remains at issue. They also point to the lack of consistent public policies on youth issues, the lack of investment and the lack of coordination among juvenile justice sector institutions including prosecutors, public defenders, judges, police, and correction facilities officers as major challenges.

The three workshops will lead to an AJR analysis of the status of juvenile justice, leading to a more concrete vision of the specific needs and problems facing each country and the region. Over the long-term, AJR’s analyses of juvenile justice issues will enable governments and civil society to better address the issues of youth-and-justice in an effort to reduce the numbers of youths who join gangs.

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