SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – The numbers paint a grim picture: Of the 2,876 murders committed nationwide from January to August, 110 victims were students who attended public schools in the Central American nation, according to Central Unit for Analysis and Treatment of Information of the Investigations Division of the National Civil Police (PNC).
Twenty-three of the students were killed wearing their school uniforms, with 12 being murdered on their way to or from school. The majority of the student murders occurred in the departments of San Salvador, Sonsonete and San Miguel.
Howard Cotto, the director of investigations for the police, said the motives behind the students’ losing their lives were related to gang violence, fights over the sale of narcotics and extortion plots.
“We see in another person not a brother but a ‘danger,’ which makes most people fear being attacked,” said Mauricio Maravilla, a 17-year-old who lives in the municipality of San Juan Opico, in the department of La Libertad.
A total of 1,386,767 students attend the country’s 4,923 public schools.
This situation has forced some schools to hire companies to provide security guards.
School officials at Inframen, the country’s largest public school with an enrollment of 2,879, pay US$30,000 annually for security guards to prevent looting and non-students from entering the premises at the San Salvador-based campus.
“We have hired four watchmen to protect the student body during the day,” Inframen Principal Enrique Mejía said. “At night [we have] two more.”
President Mauricio Funes recently told local media “there is no doubt we need a greater presence of security forces in schools, where the students are being affected.”
In response, the Ministries of Education and Security have implemented measures to guarantee students’ safety.
The PNC’s plan is to deploy 400 police agents in 166 of the 300 schools that have the worst problems with gangs nationwide.
Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who also is the minister of education, said, “The situation is serious in some schools because there are weapons, drugs, sexual harassment and even rapes going on. We have already outlined the criminal landscape and the problem is centered the most in institutes, in other words, in secondary schools.”
Sánchez Cerén added: “The schools are not the center of the violence. The violence is outside, within society, which has been unable to constitute itself harmoniously. That is the greatest challenge.”
Commissioner Hugo Ramírez, the PNC’s assistant director of public security, said the implementation of the new plan is a challenge.
“It requires lots of police agents. But the Chief of Police [Carlos Ascencio] has given the order to safeguard the students and their teachers.”
Meantime, Maravilla, who expects to graduate this year, supports the plan.
“I hope it brings the expected results,” he said. “I can see how the institutions in charge of public safety are making efforts to eradicate criminal activities. I hope private business and society join in these efforts and together we can get away from this dark and hopeless atmosphere.”