Threats and intimidation by criminal gangs in the city of Medellin displaced 1,355 students in 2009, preventing them from attending school regularly, according to Colombian human rights NGO CODHES.
A report released by the NGO on Wednesday says that many students are forced to flee their homes by threats from armed gangs who want to recruit them as members or as informants.
Many others are prevented from regularly attending school by “invisible borders” set up by local criminal gangs in neighborhoods such as Pedregal, Castilla, Santo Domingo, Independencias, La Sierra, Ocho de Marzo, and Communas 1- 9, 13 and 16.
It can be dangerous for a child to travel to a school located in another neighborhood, as a teacher in the neighborhood of Castilla told CODHES “The situation has gotten more complicated since the end of last year. The control that the gangs have on youth is so terrible that here in Castilla one kid was shot just for passing through a street that wasn’t his.”
As a result, some students who must walk through “foreign” neighborhoods to go to school take precautions so as not to stand out.
“I live in Pedregal and I have to pass by the school in Castilla, and for them to not recognize me [when I pass the other school], I go without my uniform on, and when I arrive to the entrance of my school, I put it on … Otherwise, I would have to stay home and study because I do not have money to take the bus,” one sixth-grade student told CODHES.
According to the report, criminal gangs such as La Oficina, 101, La Arboleda, Castilla, Mondonguereros, Calle del Pecado, and others, have targeted local youths with verbal and written threats and violence, producing an environment of fear that prevents students from attending school on a regular basis.
Statistics from the Medellin mayor’s office show that the 1,355 displaced students in 2009 form roughly 30% of the total amount of displaced people in the city during the year. In total 4,375 people were displaced in Medellin in 2009, of which 46% were displaced by unidentified armed groups, 35% by neighborhood gangs, 8% by the army, 5% by guerillas, and 5% for unknown reasons.