Mexican criminals recruit minors through video games

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The Mexican police rescued three children from the violence of criminals. The criminals had recruited the children through the popular video game “Free Fire”. The game is about shooting rivals. The children between the ages of eleven and 14 should be used as informers more than 1,300 kilometers from their home town.

One of the boys had befriended another player through Free Fire who was actually a criminal. “This is done via the PlayStation, XBox or Nintendo or Switch consoles,” reports Mexico’s Deputy Minister for Public Security, Ricardo Mejía. The criminals pretend to be teenagers and look online for children who are “interested in this type of game, in guns, in adrenaline”. They then send them private invitations, preferably in the early morning hours or when their parents are at work.

Although “they are not using direct words like narco, cartel or killer, they are starting to use acronyms from criminal groups,” warns Mejía. The boy was offered “work”. He accepted and invited two friends, the government official said.

In northern Mexico, the children were supposed to listen to the radio and warn the criminals of a possible police presence. Allegedly they were offered 8,000 pesos (around 340 euros) every two weeks. Mejía did not say which bonds were behind the recruitment. Following reports from the families, the police succeeded in locating the children using the online game and on October 9, before they left, to free them from an apartment near their home town.

“This case is important and connects the virtual with the real world, as the criminals carried out their criminal activities through online multiplayer games and social networks,” says Mejía. In addition to Free Fire, video games such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty or Gears of War are used “with a high degree of violence” for recruitment.

In September this year has an investigation of the Wall Street Journal revealed that the powerful Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) cartel is using Facebook to recruit and train young people. According to a recently published Study by the non-profit organization Reinserta Organized criminals have recruited more than 30,000 Mexican children over the past 20 years.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador describes video games as very violent and harmful. But he also emphasizes that he does not want to ban video games. Responsible parents would do their research and spend more time with their children. “These games are there to keep you entertained, but the content isn’t necessarily good.” He advises not to leave children alone with video games and to heed the 10-point catalog.

This was presented by the Minister for Public Security and Citizen Protection, Rosa Icela Rodríguez. It recommends not playing or chatting with strangers, setting game times, sharing location, providing personal information, and reporting suspicious accounts. “It’s not about demonizing the technology, but developing a responsible approach to it,” warns Rodríguez.


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