The focus on immigration along the U.S. border has brought human rights of several Latin American countries into the limelight. A large portion of the migrants come from El Salvador — the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. A large number of migrants is largely due to violations of women’s rights and gang violence throughout the country. Here are 5 crucial facts about human rights in El Salvador.
5 Important Facts About Human Rightsi in El Salvador
- El Salvador is regarded as the murder capital of the world. Violence is very prevalent in El Salvador due to the dominance of gangs. In the first three months of 2016, there was an average of one murder per hour. Two gangs, in particular, have a supreme rule — MS-13 and 18th Street Gang. In 2015, the Supreme Court of El Salvador declared both organizations as terroristic; yet, the government fails to control gang activity — the gang leaders proclaim that they control the country. The hope of escaping gang activity and violence is a leading cause of El Salvadoran migration to the U.S.
- Internal displacement is extremely dangerous. Freedom of movement is almost non-existent and another one of the human rights violations in El Salvador. This is due in part to the territorial nature of the gangs. Even if persons are not a member of the gang, but live in an area controlled by a gang, they will not be permitted to enter a different gang’s territory even if they are using public transportation. Upon entry to a different territory, identification cards which include an address must be presented and, in the most extreme cases, innocent persons are killed due to their residence location. At the same time, many are forced to flee their homes due to violence and crime; 66 percent have changed their place of residence once, 31 percent two to four times and over 3 percent five or more times. The same poll showed that over 40 percent of people hope to migrate to another country within a year.
- Prisons are overcrowded and conditions are inhumane. In 2017, over 38,000 inmates were being held in a facility designed for less than 11,500. This facility was not unique in its overcrowding. In many facilities, provisions for sanitation, potable water, proper ventilation, temperature control and medical care were inadequate by human rights standards. Many have reported that the conditions are an abuse to the right to life and right to health of the inmates. The overcrowding has also lead to an easier and wider-spread proliferation of diseases; tuberculosis cases have increased by 400 percent as the prisons have become more crowded.
- Nearly 1/3 of workers on sugarcane plantations are under the age of 18. El Salvador does have child labor laws — children ages 14-18 may engage in light work if it does not pose a threat to the child’s health, education, or development. The law also distinguishes that children under 18 years old may not work in “hazardous occupations.” Yet, these laws are not enforced or followed, as at least 5,000 kids and as many as 30,000 kids work on the sugar plantations, using large machetes to sheer the leaves for up to 9 hours a day in the hot sun. In interviews conducted by the Human Rights Watch, nearly every child said he/she had suffered gashes. Despite labor codes that make employers responsible for medical expenses resulting from on the job injuries, many kids are left to pay for their own medical care. Additionally, the majority of kids who work on the plantations miss the first several months of school.
- Government corruption exists on all levels. Many government officials allegedly have ties or allegiances to certain gangs. In August of 2017, the Probity Section of the Supreme Court was investigating 517 current and former public officials for illicit enrichment. That same year, the Ethics Tribunal reported that it received 375 complaints against 467 public officials. Reports and complaints of cruel treatment or torture by public officers are all too common, as is discrimination against sexual minorities by police officers. Unlawful killings and arrests are also a continual problem for officers.
Reward Greater Than Risk
Human rights in El Salvador must be addressed and improved in order to ensure widespread safety. If violence decreases and improved rights are met, then the peoples’ quality of life overall will prosper and hardship will lessen. Fewer people will be forced to helplessly flee in search of difficult asylum elsewhere, and family members and familiarity will cease to be left behind.
– Jessie Serody