On Wednesday, 19 children were inducted into a vigilante group that for years has been battling drug gangs in restive Guerrero state. Local journalists published photographs and videos of the induction ceremony — in which uniformed, rifle-wielding children performed military-style exercises — that drew outrage across Mexico, with human rights officials condemning it as child abuse.
But the leader of the vigilante group said in a phone interview Thursday that a dramatic spike in violence in the region and an absence of government intervention have left the community no choice but to arm even its children.
"They must be prepared," said Bernardino Sanchez Luna, the founder of the vigilante group known as the CRAC-PF. "If they are afraid, the criminals will kill them like little chickens."
Two of the children who were trained were 6 years old, he said. The oldest members of the group were 15.