Colombian street gangs have taken to extorting school children for the right to attend school, highlighting the increasingly widespread nature of the crime and its impact on daily life in the country.
Criminal gangs in the Medellin neighborhood of El Limonar are demanding 25-50 cents from children in order to attend one of the five schools in the southwest of the city, reported El Colombiano. With approximately 8,000 students in the area, the practice is estimated to earn the gangs up to $4,000 a day.
The story is similar in the north-western department of Cordoba, where gangs linked to neo-paramilitary cartel the Urabeños reportedly charge a $1.00 fee at school entrances. If the student is unable to pay for that day or week, a running tab is kept and at the end of the month the student must then pay $20.00 plus interest of $2.50, according to one mother in the area.
Extortion in Colombia is estimated to be worth $1 billion annually and has grown by 229 percent over the last four years. Common criminals are responsible for an estimated 83 percent of cases, while transnational criminal groups like the Urabeños and the Rastrojos commit only 6 percent of reported cases.
In the cases in Medellin and Cordoba, it is unlikely that transnational drug trafficking groups such as the Urabeños are directly responsible for the micro-extortion of students. It is much more probable that those responsible are low-level affiliates of the cartels or street gangs using the name of the drug syndicate to instill fear.