Not free to be young
Project info

This reportage called ‘Not free to be young’ was shot throughout El Salvador between March and May 2015.

It depicts both Salvadorian youth as it tries to cut spaces of normality for themselves amidst the rising tide of gang related violence, but also young gangsters themselves trapped in a life that will either lead them to be jailed or killed. El Salvador has recently become the most murderous nation in the world outside a war zone, with an average of 25-30 homicides per day, with the overwhelming majority of them being youths. The insecurity that results from such violence has rocked every section of society causing widespread distrust amongst its citizens along with a collective sense of fear and trauma.

It’s undisputable that to be anywhere between 12 and 25 years old in El Salvador is to live in constant fear of kidnapping, rape, torture, murder and forced recruitment by either two of the mortally opposed gangs that rule every square inch of the country. Mothers and fathers are scared their children will walk out to school one morning and never come back, joining the long list of thousands of 'desaparecidos' or missing people.

Yet, in all this mayhem and widespread sense of suspicion lies a generation of young Salvadorians that are gradually becoming adults and in doing so do what any youth does around the world, they fall in love, play football and laugh amongst themselves.

While most national and international media has been focusing increasingly on murder statistics, pitching one section of society against the other, my reportage documents the co-existence of polar opposite feelings within a society, from love to pain, from hope to an utter sense of defeat. Far from interpreting reality in clear-cut, simplistic terms, the reportage seeks to grasp the shades of gray that necessarily constitute the complexity of everyday life in El Salvador.

Historically, the violent gangs of El Salvador began in the United States as Latinos formed gangs to battle other street gangs in Los Angeles and other cities. As members were arrested and deported to El Salvador in the 1990s, their gangs filled a power vacuum in their home country that was fresh off a civil war that stretched from 1979 to 1992.

The Cold War era that saw Marxists and Maoist insurgencies throughout Latin America subsided and created a further power vacuum for drug and extortion gangs to fill.

Today the scars of its long-term conflicts run like invisible lines throughout the country limiting the physical sphere of influence of each of the two rival gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and 18 Street. Impossible to detect to the naked eye these lines structure and regulate the everyday life of its inhabitants. If someone from a suburb belonging to the Mara is found merely walking through an area under the control of Barrio 18, he or she may be tortured and killed.

Whilst the government has responded by deploying thousands of policemen and army troops in hot spots around the country to clamp down on gangs, this has mostly increased the level of violence, including murders of policemen.