Central America: criminal responsibility lowered to 12 years of age.
Members of Mara Salvatrucha - Since 2008 many new Mara members have no more tatoos, to difficult the work of the police.
El Salvador and Panama have strengthened their laws to punish juvenile offenders. Young criminals are increasingly numerous and more violent in the entire Central American region, due to the scourge of gangs and the transnational organized crime.
Panama just lower the age of criminal accountability from 14 to 12 years, the same as under the Penal Code in Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador, who had just a reform legislation in which they increased from seven to 15 years the maximum penalty imprisonment for offenders aged between 16 and 18.
In Guatemala and Nicaragua the age of juvenile criminal responsibility begins at age 13.
All started with the latino gang phenomenon ,born in Los Angeles and other parts of the United States. Juvenile latino criminals were expelled from the U.S. after doing time in the U.S.jails. These juvenile offenders got tough in the American jails, and after being expelled they started to organize local gangs in Central America. There are some 70,000 gang members in these central American countries, where the organized criminal organizations begin to recruit at the young age of 12 years.
According to police statistics, only in Guatemala, one of the most violent countries in the region, last year almost 2,000 young people were caught for theft, unlawful possession of firearms, extortion, possession, trafficking and cultivation of drugs, as well homicides.
In Honduras, an estimated 20% of all minors are involved in crimes. “They are used by adults because they know the penalties for them are smaller, up to eight years, but when they turn 18 go to farms to adult criminal courts but always under adult supervision and juvenile courts,” according to Josefina Enamorado, head of the Program “ Preventive Measures of the Honduran Institute for Children and Families (INHFA).
In the four INHFA centers, there are 253 children under 18 years, most of them members of Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 and Mara 18, convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, domestic violence and drugs.
In El Salvador, until last December were 773 youth in five juvenile detention centers, of whom 85% belong to gangs and 685 of them are doing time for serious crimes.