Children with mobile phones: recruiting via games and chats
Photo: Jochen Eckel / IMAGO
The Mexican government warns that drug gangs are using modern media to recruit children.
Organized crime uses games and networks such as TikTok and Instagram to recruit young people, said Ricardo Mejia, State Secretary responsible for security issues on Wednesday.
As an example, he cited the case of three children in the state of Oaxaca who had temporarily disappeared after allegedly being contacted via the Internet.
Police found the three children, aged 11-14, on October 9 after their families reported them missing. One of the children came into contact with a suspected criminal in August via the free mobile game "Free Fire". The suspect offered the child a job after they continued their conversation on Facebook, said Mejia, who also urged caution when playing console games.
"Free Fire" is an action game with a chat function that is popular all over the world.
It has been installed more than a billion times on Android devices alone.
With such a huge user base, it is statistically to be expected that it will also be played by numerous criminals - be it as leisure fun or actually targeted to come into contact with children and young people and to exploit them.
Two school friends recruited
The job the child was offered was to "monitor radio frequencies in northern Mexico to warn of the presence of the police," State Secretary Mejia said.
The promised payment was therefore 8,000 pesos for two weeks of support, the equivalent of 340 euros.
The minor accepted the offer and also recruited two school friends, it is said.
Ultimately, however, the trio was found before boarding a bus to northern Mexico.
According to the Children's Rights Network in Mexico (Redim), thousands of children in Mexico are recruited by drug traffickers and other organized gangs each year.
Drug trafficking is a leading cause of escalation in violence in many of Mexico's 32 states.
In 2020, the country officially recorded more than 36,579 homicides - around 100 per day.
The fact that criminals also use online games and social media apps to come into contact with young people is not a purely Mexican phenomenon.
In Germany, too, investigators and child protection organizations warn that sex offenders, for example, specifically use platforms such as cuddles or online games with in-game chat because they know that there are children and young people there, often without adult supervision.
The perpetrators often pretend to be children in order to gain the trust of their chat or play partners and then, for example, get them to talk via messenger apps.
You can read more about so-called cybergrooming here and here.
mbö / AFP / AP