Wednesday, November 10, 2010

los ni nis

Time | Mexican media talk about a new category known as los ni nis or "neither nors" — young people who neither work nor study. There is a heated debate here about how many ni nis there are. Mexico's National University claims there are several million, although the government retorts that there are only a few hundred thousand.

One of the largest populations of ni nis is in Ciudad Juarez, considered by many to be the most murderous city on the planet. A recent report financed by the government found that 120,000 Juarez residents between the ages of 13 and 24 — or 45% of the population — were in neither formal work nor school. Many live in slums spreading up hills on the west side of the city, home to workers in the struggling assembly plant industry. On a visit to the Juarez west side earlier this year, I heard young people relate how criminal cartels are one of the only organizations that offer them work. That mafia will now pay a young person $1,000 per trip if he or she smuggles drugs over the border; the youths say the drug gangs will fork over as little as $100 for someone to carry out an assassination. Sandra Ramirez, a social worker in the slums, confirmed these alarming numbers. "It is only them [the cartels] that are coming to these kids and offering them anything," she says. "They offer them money, cell phones and guns to protect themselves. You think these kids are going to refuse? They have nothing to lose. They only see the day to day. They know they could die and they say so. But they don't care. Because they have lived this way all their lives."