According to UNICEF, adolescents in Mexico represent 12% of the population (2019). Although they may look like a privileged group because of their young age, they face several challenges, such as being the most likely to suffer violence, discrimination, school dropouts, low achievement, having run-ins with the law and being deprived of their liberty. In addition, young people between 15 and 24 years are the group with a steady increase in HIV and AIDS cases. Today in Mexico, 19,918 men and 4,063 women between the ages of 15 and 19 live with HIV. In 2017, 7,786 adolescents between the ages of 12 -18 were in trouble with the law, and from those 1,638 were deprived of their liberty.
According to the report “Diagnosis of adolescents who commit severe offenses in Mexico” that compile 278 interviews from adolescents who were deprived of their liberty in four states in Mexico; show that 41% of the interviewees suffered some type of mistreatment or abuse during their childhood; 13% had children and lived with their partners, 52% attended some grade of secondary school or completed this level, 53% mentioned that the economic situation of their families was regular, 94% of the adolescents had held several jobs, 44% of the adolescents consumed alcohol, and 57% consumed drugs regularly. These figures provide a snapshot of the realities of justice involved young people. Typically, they are young men with low schooling, living in marginal urban areas, working in informal jobs, living in violent/ unprotected environments, frequent drug / alcohol users. In other words, they are in a vulnerable situation, with very few or no positive role models, very few good choices or genuine opportunities for positive development.
Also, the current context of violence in Mexico directly affects these young people’s lives. Violence is one of the major reasons adolescents drop out of school early, as they experience harassment at school. In addition, during times of economic crisis, adolescents see work as an option to increase family income and drop out of school. The current COVID-19 health crisis has aggravated these factors, where confinement measures and prolonged school closures have caused children and adolescents to fall behind in school or at risk of dropping out entirely, increasing stress levels and anxiety; while dealing with domestic violence. Long with lack of integral support or reintegration back into society, when adolescents get in trouble with the law, they face discrimination from a society that criminalizes them, limiting their opportunities for future development. All of these factors lead to lack of purpose, lack of hope for a better future - which increases risks of risk-taking behavior including re-occurrence of crime(s).
Therefore, it is essential to support local strategies to increase young people’s options and opportunities by improving their life skills for successful reintegration into society.
INSADE is a nonprofit with ten years of experience; created to attend adolescents deprived of their liberty to disseminate information about HIV and AIDS. However the organization’s work has evolved into the generation of options for social reintegration and economic empowerment for populations (youth and adults) deprived of their liberty and on probation through an intervention model called “Hecho en Libertad” (Made in Freedom). This model comprises four phases:
1. Provide and develop life skills for young people and adults through sports and training on relevant topics such as drug abuse, discrimination, sexual and reproductive rights (prevention of STDs, HIV/AIDS, and adolescent pregnancy, gender-based violence, to name a few).
2. Provide training in different trades such as serigraphy assistant, bicycle mechanic assistant, and kitchen assistant.
3. Provide training and coaching for entrepreneurial development and self-employment that involves the creation of a business plan and receiving affordable credits by linking them with government institutions or other nonprofits for financial support. In addition, those who do not want to create a business receive support by helping them with resume and interview preparation, among others.
4. They support participants in starting up their micro-businesses or in their job searching process. This phase lasts from 6 months to 2 years and depends on the needs of the beneficiaries.
And the model has been quite effective as 98% of its beneficiaries do not come into trouble with the law again; 90% have access to credit, and 98% of the products made under the trademark Hecho en Libertad are sold through the webpage http://hechoenlibertad.org.mx/shop/
INSADE works in five states in Mexico (Mexico City, Mexico, South Baja California, and Yucatan). Also, they have an agreement with the Federal Prison System, which allows them to work with people inside and outside the prisons.
Daniel Serrano de Rejil is the founder and Executive Director of INSADE. He has more than 20 years of experience in the social sector and is a true activist and advocate for at-risk youths. His work and organization have been recognized through different awards such as the Visionaris 2020 (UBS Social Entrepreneurship Award), Changemakers 2014 by American Express and Ashoka, Social Entrepreneur Award by CEMEX_TEC (2014), and HIV/AIDS Justice Makers Fellows (2012).
EMpower’s first grant to INSADE will help 100 justice involved young people between the ages of 15 and 19 (55% girls and 45% boys) increase their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights, mainly to prevent early pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. In addition, they will increase their knowledge to prevent violence–especially gender-based violence–and improve and develop core life skills. Also, it will increase their knowledge and understanding of the effects of the prolonged use of drugs to make informed decisions. Meanwhile, the grant will allow INSADE to strengthen its intervention model by documenting and assessing its program’s first phase.
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