During 2017, the murders of around 248 children and adolescents were reported in El Salvador. Most of these were revenge killings committed by gangs, or youngsters were killed because they were with their parents who were targeted for murder.
The diocesan bishop of the Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador, the Rt Revd Juan David Alvarado, has condemned the murders of children and adolescents committed in the country, expressing concern and anger as the age range of victims widens to include younger and younger children.
Our Church in El Salvador has not been spared from this daily reality. On 30 October 2017, Raquel’s 15-year-old grandson Miguel, a teenage soccer player and student, joined the statistics of children and adolescents whose dreams have been cut short by the gangs.
"My grandson was a young man who liked to play soccer and had already had two meetings about signing up to play with the Alianza Football Club, said Raquel through tears, remembering what happened that fateful day.
“The day they killed him, he was 15 years old. He had played a match with his team and returned to be with me. Then I sent him to change a $20 bill a few meters from the house, so that he could pay the referee. I do not know if he changed the bill and that does not matter anymore. The only thing is that he did not return."
This happened in a municipality of San Salvador near San Bartolomé Perulapía. Raquel's neighbours witnessed her grandson being taken from the corner of the soccer field by youths belonging to gangs but, not seeing any sign of force, they had not told the family.
When Raquel's relatives heard this, they boldly asked the young gang members about the whereabouts of the 15-yearold adolescent, but despite constant questioning, the gang members insisted they knew nothing.
A few days after Miguel disappeared, seeing the family's persistence, a young man from the gang confirmed suspicions about what had happened. The 15-year-old had lost his life at the hands of these groups.
Raquel said, "He even confessed that Miguelito had asked to be let go to say goodbye to his mother and they did not allow anything. No matter how much he asked for help, nobody helped him. This happened at 11 o'clock at night."
After this, Raquel and her family started being harassed in their own community, so she decided to seek help from the Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador (IAES). Through the IAES Episcopal Programme ‘Dignity and Justice’, the family was relocated out of the municipality to shelter homes. After a few months, Raquel’s daughter and grandchildren were able to leave the country to ensure their safety. Raquel herself is with her mother and her other daughter, living in another part of the country where she is safe.
The Revd Juan Pablo, priest in charge of the Anglican parish of the area, recognises the reality with which he must work day by day:
"Work is difficult. Despite doing missionary work, many people are reluctant to attend the church. In a way, the gang respects the church, as long as there are good relations. ‘Accompanying’ work is always necessary. But the church must be ready to act and guide people who suffer gang harassment and are forced to take steps."
There are many cases of children and adolescents like Miguel who fail to fulfil their dreams and become good men and women for our country. Given the lack of a functional judicial system to control what happens in an area and the impunity associated with these crimes, IAES will continue working to support and accompany the Salvadoran population.
CONTACT: Ernesto Edrian Valle, Communications Officer of the Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador, email firstname.lastname@example.org