Preventing youth violence in Central America
Title: Preventing youth violence in Central America – PREVENIR
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Countries: Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador
Lead executing agency: General Secretariat of the Central American Integration System (SICA)
Overall term: 2009 to 2019
An extremely high level of interpersonal violence has influenced development in countries located in Central America’s northern triangle – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Violence perpetrated against young people, domestic violence, child abuse, violence against women, violence connected to drug trafficking and consumption, theft and extortion are widespread. Young men aged between 15 and 30 are especially at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators given the high rates of violence. Young women are primarily affected by domestic violence.
National youth development and violence prevention policies and strategies have been adopted in recent years in response to extensive violence. The Regional Security Strategy for Central America adopted in 2011 by the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana, SICA) defined fields of activity, priorities and project areas. The Democratic Security Directorate is responsible for coordinating and implementing these activities. In practice, the high expectations for these policies have not been met to date. Neither SICA nor the national governments have adequately integrated violence prevention into their respective systems.
Violence in Central America has decreased in the medium to long term as a result of multi-faceted, effective prevention work.
At local level, the PREVENIR project promotes effective prevention approaches and their establishment at national and regional level. Supplemented by security policies, better coordination between policy-makers and the public is hoped to lead to a reduction in violence in Central America in the medium to long term.
PREVENIR focuses on prevention measures for young people who are at elevated risk but have not yet become involved in violence or experienced violence. The programme takes an ecosystemic approach towards youth violence prevention based on the socialisation model devised by the development psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner. 'Significant others' play a key role in this model, in other words people who have direct contact with children and young people and influence their behaviour, such as teachers, parents, neighbours and peers, but also local politicians and police officers. Their actions can open up opportunities for prosocial, non-violent and productive relationships or alternatively have a negative impact on young people's behaviour.
The project works in three fields of activity:
- National and local key institutions receive support in implementing proven approaches to intersectoral youth violence prevention.
- Institutional capacity to improve vocational opportunities for disadvantaged young people is developed at local and national level.
- The Democratic Security Directorate within the Central American Integration System (SICA) receives support in establishing a knowledge management system.
PREVENIR has developed and successfully tested training courses with a practical focus for prevention work in communities. In El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a total of 570 people working for governmental and non-governmental organisations have been trained. As multipliers, they have drafted prevention plans in 19 communities in El Salvador, six in Guatemala and 15 in Honduras. They are now assisting communities in implementing these plans. A training course for community-based police work has been developed to integrate police into prevention work more effectively.
The programme set up a digital platform to promote youth employment at the end of 2015. Tuchance.org provides young people in the region with information about educational grants, courses for young entrepreneurs, job opportunities and manual training and about learning practical life skills. Working in conjunction with national training institutions, the project adapted a number courses for young people to market needs. By the end of 2016, about 7,100 young people had received training and 25 computer centres had been set up, which the communities continue to run independently.
Miles de Manos, an educational approach to violence prevention in schools, was initially tested with positive results in pilot schools of education ministries in each partner country. Visible physical violence between young people in these schools was reduced by 20 per cent over a period of six months. Communication between teachers and students improved, and learning and behavioural issues were increasingly solved in a spirit of partnership. Between 2014 and 2016, the education ministries in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador introduced Miles de Manos in another 600 schools and school networks. A total of 9,000 teachers took part in the training, and some 120,000 students are participating.