By Manuel Manrique Castro, February 22 2013      Where will be the children of Edison Flores, the young man who died ten years ago lying on a steep street of Comuna 8, one of the leaders of the bloc of the AUC Metro [El Bloque Metro - a paramilitary organisation reported to be of the extreme right that organised itself in the late 1990s in Medellín]? The protagonist of the documentary La Sierra, poor, 22 years old, not only left behind death and terror but also six children - borne by six different girls - who by now must be between 10 and 13 years, i.e., the age at which the crime lurks and where many children are hooked by crime, where otherwise untouched.

Edison's children, five men, who probably are growing up in the same streets devastated by the AUC of that time period, are the ones that need attention now, so as not to venture into the opportunities that their father, who said it specifically, did not want for them. But this is only one of many similar stories of children, born between the thunder of bullets and fear of the people, who cry out for better luck than their parents. Otherwise, for the dark hand of criminal gangs and the many faces of crime, these children will be the easy cannon fodder they need, then as now, under new circumstances, as has been happening.

There is recognition of Medellín as the most innovative city in the world, emphasizing the infrastructure; and, as has been said, we must strengthen the same spirit in the social field, particularly in the new generations and protection of those lives. And the arrival of the distinction may also be encouragement for finding creative responses capable of comparable social development work aimed at addressing the physical, with originality, meaning the basic needs of the population.

An investigation by the Van Leer Foundation in Recife, a northeastern Brazilian city hard hit by violence, indicates that there are three main reasons that push young people into the labyrinths of illegality and criminality. The first has something to do with a reaction to injustice evidenced by the large differences between marginal areas and those with better services and living conditions. The second element is the desire for independence. The teens, many under 15 years, identify consumerism with independence and recognise that their family has no way to meet those aspirations. Easy money, though risky, is gained to satisfy their tastes: clothing, entertainment, invitations - and is, par excellence, the tool of ostentation. The third reason is the desire for status and recognition - to command respect, especially among elders, to be distinguished from the mass of the invisible.

What the [Bernard van Leer] Foundation does, based on knowledge gained, has responses that are experiencing success: it supported the mounting of an internet television channel called Favela News that puts information angle about their own community on the screen for children and young people from the novel angle they are looking for; it has been driving the organization of mothers of victims and children involved in illegality, forming a movement that works in a similar mold to that of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina; it is involved in community mediation led to improve collective life; and, fourthly, it works in community-led economic transformation through creative solutions. These are working well; we must see what can be leveraged within the reality of Medellin and Valle de Aburrá, in this quest to strengthen innovation related to the welfare of children and youth.

By Manuel Manrique Castro

Click here to read the original blog in Spanish on El Mundo.com.