Girls, in contrast, only rarely become involved in smuggling. One reason for this sheds light on why so many boys do: a large part of the labour market near the border relies on the work of women and girls. These employers are the maquiladoras. They are foreign-owned manufacturing centres producing goods for export, and they systematically rely on what is believed to be a more docile, more manageable, female workforce. As a result, men and boys have been largely excluded from a major source of employment in an area where there is precious little to be had.
This shift has affected more than just labour dynamics. Social scientists have long argued that the displacement of the male workforce by an industry that privileges female labour has helped foster sexual and gender-based violence in border communities. The murder of women is rife, and disappearances in connection with long histories of intimate partner violence are a widespread phenomenon. And all along, one of the leading causes of death among young men is homicide by deadly weapon.
Growing up on the border
This is the background for the collection of testimonials from border children and their families that we will be releasing over the next two weeks. All of the children you will hear from have crossed the border irregularly, either pursuing their own migratory aspirations or to smuggle other people. They also all come from Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican sister city to El Paso on the western-most tip of Texas. The two places are so close that if no border ran between them they would be a single community.
Juárez has long lived in the collective consciousness thanks to Hollywood, mainstream media, and organised crime literature. It’s known as a battleground for Mexican drug cartels; as a world capital of femicide; and, thanks to the Trump and Biden administrations’ efforts to contain migration, as a massive refugee camp.
Juárez is also where an NGO called Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción (DHIA) launched Mexico’s first effort to address the challenges faced by children involved in smuggling. The project started in 2016, and the local child protection agency quickly began to refer children caught crossing the border to DHIA for restorative justice services. Today, DHIA is still the only non-profit in the country providing legal, educational and psychological assistance to this population.
CommentsWe encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.