According to media estimates, there are up to 5,000 youths operating in 250 gangs spread throughout Medellin, into neighboring municipalities of Envigado and Itagui. In one Medellin neighborhood, Comuna 6, there are said to be 35 gangs in competition with one another, all of them made up mostly of underage members.

In another Medellin neighborhood, Comuna 13, 161 people were murdered in 2012 and 22 are missing.

The humanitarian non-profit organization CORPADES estimates that up to 60 percent of Medellin’s criminal gangs are made up of youths between 11 and 17 years old.

Gangs fight turf battles for local control of drug trafficking and the extortion of bus operators and storekeepers.

Underage bands from Medellin are also reportedly deployed to areas like Bajo Cauca, north of the city, fueling the violence in confrontations against the rival Urabeños.

For the kids who survive, belonging to a gang is a “school” (read: a “resume-builder” of some kind) for future acceptance into a more powerful gang.

To understand the story of Medellin gang-life, I recommend the documentary “La Sierra” by Margarita Martinez and Scott Dalton.

You can watch “La Sierra” here.