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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

EiE Crisis Spotlight: El Salvador


Location of Crisis

El Salvador: in the capital city San Salvador and around the country.

Timing of Crisis

Since the 1990s, youth violence has represented a major challenge to the countries of Central America.

Crime and impunity coupled with a high level of youth violence are increasingly turning into a major development obstacle.

According to UNESCO over the past decade, Central America has witnessed a serious exacerbation of youth violence.

According to a report written by Interpeace and the Initiative for Peacebuilding- Early Warning Analysis to Action , the Central America Northern Triangle, composed of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, has an overwhelming concern about the social violence affecting young people. The report states also that the region is affected by a disturbingly high degree of violence and crime. Violence and insecurity is a major concern for the vast majority of the population.

Affected Populations

The company Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH  highlights that in a region where youths aged between 10 and 24 years old represent more than 30 percent of the total population, youth are the main perpetrators and victims of violence. The company also states that besides the organised youth gangs know as maras, the violence and criminal milieu are dominated by others, who are also mostly youngsters. According to a survey of 1,000 gangs members by the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública in El Salvador, young members has an average age of 20 and a mean entry age of 15 years old.

According to RET, which is studying the possibility to expand to Central America, in particular, the countries of the Northern Triangle, the complexity of the “gang” problem is twofold: first, the gang foreshadows social cleavages where destruction and rejection dynamics substitute social coexistence and cohesion. Moreover, this phenomenon is also coping mechanism for many children and young people to counteract and “fight” a social order that deliberately excluded them.

A RET preliminary evaluation emphasizes that gangs are comprised of more than 60,000 young people and adolescents. More than 10,000 are in prison. Furthermore, the organization states there is a high youth crime rate. In 2011, 126 students were killed; 1,092 were injured by gunshot and 228 died; 1713 girls between 10 and 14 were pregnant, out of which 50% were having their second child. 60% of teenage mothers drop school or are denied access to educational institutions.

Teenagers and young adults, both men and women, are victims of physical, sexual, and psychological violence, neglect and social discrimination a home, school and in the community. Besides youth and street gangs, young people are involved in direct violence related to rivalries between members of sport clubs and different schools as well as student violence within schools, some of which has led to serious assaults and even homicides.

Finally, according to Interpeace and the Initiative for Peacebuilding- Early Warning Analysis to Action  not all youth are at the same level of risk of violence. Some of these young people are more vulnerable and more socially disadvantaged. According to this report, marginalise youth- particularly those who live in urban communities without access to basic necessities- are at higher risk of being victims and perpetrators of violence. However, a study on Gangs and Violence Reduction in Central America  highlights that demographically, the perpetration of (and victimization by) violence appears to be concentrated primarily among young males aged 15 to 34.

Brief Description of the Situation

El Salvador, one of the smallest and most densely populated of the Latin American countries, emerged in the 1980s after a bloody civil war that caused about 75,000 deaths until the signing of a peace agreement between the government and leftist guerrillas (the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) in 1992.

According to Aldo Lauria Santiago and Leigh Binford, in the book Landscapes of Struggle: Politics, Society and Community in El Salvador, the country lived a post war reconfiguration as a consequence of the twelve-year civil war. Large areas of conflictive zones were depopulated for more than a decade as hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fled to urban centres, displaced persons and refugee camps or left the country. Approximately 20 percent of the Salvadoran population still resides outside the country, mainly in the United States.

The Guardian ©
Members of Mara Salvatrucha 13, one of the main gangs in San Salvador.
Around 200 people die every year on the migrant road from El Salvador to the United States, seeking better economic conditions. A third of the Salvadoran families live in poverty and nearly 11% in extreme poverty. According to the UNHCR, by January 2013, there were 8,170 Salvadoran refugees and 1,635 asylum seekers.

According to the organization Hommies Unidos, upon their arrival into the United States, Salvadoran parents worked two or more jobs, and their children were left on their own. In order to survive racism and alienation, children and young people, sometimes of eight or nine years old, often turned to the streets, where they were recruited, sometimes forcibly, into gangs, which became their instant friends and family.

In the 1990s, many youngsters returned to El Salvador and took with them the gang culture. This expulsion added more violent gang members into a less organized and violent local gang culture already in existence in El Salvador. Within this environment of extreme poverty and unemployment, there was a great rise in violence and gang participation.

According to the Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD), social exclusion is one of the main factors for joining a gang or group in which young people “feel they gain power and popularity” as well as acquire an identity and a status within society. Furthermore, migration as a result of the civil war has fragmented families and generated greater social risk.

Poverty and desperation, youth alienation, the ready availability of weapons, and other factors contributed to an epidemic of criminal violence that touches all regions and social classes and has resulted in an annual homicide rate higher than during all but the worst years of the civil war.

Finally, study of gangs and violence reduction in central America highlights that Central America serves as a transit point for at least 80% of all cocaine shipments between the Andean region and North America. There is an increasing amount of evidence that the involvement of local gang members in drug trafficking and dealing is leading gangs to more violent behaviour patterns.

Different sources highlight that El Salvador is facing the following main challenges: migration, violence and social insecurity, gender inequality as well as the proneness to climate change impacts and the impacts of natural and anthropic phenomena.

Impact on Education

According to the World Bank , crime and violence threaten social development and economic growth in El Salvador and negatively affect the quality of life of its citizens.

Interpeace and the Initiative for Peacebuilding- Early Warning Analysis to Action  states that every day in Central America young people are exposed to violence in their communities and on the streets through which they need to walk to work and to school. In El Salvador, the most recent extensive youth survey  found that, in urban communities, youth was as likely to witness law-enforcement officers mistreating other young people as to witness fighting between gang members.

TheWorldPressPhoto ©
Children assisting to an anti-gang police raid in San Salvador.
The World Bank  highlights life is not easy on the streets of the so-called “risk zones” of San Salvador.  For years, youth gangs, or maras, have controlled these areas to mug, threaten and extort locals, and as recruiting grounds for new members. For a long time, residents there were at the mercy of the gangs.

UNESCO states that a considerable number of these young people grow up in extremely unstable environments, where the lack of access to education, recreational and cultural activities, and fair working opportunities are part of their everyday reality. In addition, interfamilial violence, social disintegration, post-conflict institutional violence and social and political marginalization contribute to the formation of this unstable climate.

According to a 2010 UNDP Human Development Report , education in El Salvador is characterized by very low school coverage and inefficiency. The primary school enrolment rate is one of the lowest in Latin America. Efficiency indicators show low levels of school completion, average schooling, adult literacy rate, quality of education and innovation as well as high repetition and dropout rates.

According to Interpeace and the Initiative for Peacebuilding- Early Warning Analysis to Action  young people in central America face two major obstacles to completing their education: access to schools and high drop-out rates due to economic demands and educational systems which do no meet the needs of young people. Many young people do not complete a high school education and drop-out rates increase exponentially after children reach adolescence. In El Salvador, children usually complete only six grades out of nine.

Education Actors Responding to the Crisis


Needs and Challenges

RegionalYouthAlliance ©
Youth who have left the formal education system receive tutoring to return to school to gain equivalency certificates.
According to Interpeace and the Initiative for Peacebuilding- Early Warning Analysis to Action    in order to prevent violence, it is important to guarantee the right of adolescents and youth to education free of violence and adequate to the need of youth entering the workforce of a modern, global economy. Moreover, accessible and universal education is critical to both violence prevention and preparing youth for its broader role in society.

Different sources and more specifically Interpeace and the Initiative for Peacebuilding- Early Warning Analysis to Action highlight that in order to prevent violence and provide quality education, it is important to have school programmes which teach and enforce non-violent conflict resolution and peer mediation which provide mechanisms for addressing teacher-student abuse and harassment, and which include families and the surrounding community in addressing school violence issues.


Tools and Resources

The following key INEE resources in English and Spanish can be used to support EiE efforts El Salvador


Key Information Sources



Key Words

Youth violence, gangs, insecure environments and primary and secondary education access & quality.



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