ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – So far in 2014, six minors under the age of 18 have been arrested after being caught selling crack, cocaine and marijuana during operations by the country’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD).
The year’s first bust occurred on Jan. 30, when SENAD agents arrested a 17-year-old with 44 doses of crack ready for sale near Asunción’s East Cemetery.
Four of the arrests took place in March in operations in the cities of Asunción, San Lorenzo, Lambaré and Ciudad del Este. Details haven’t been made public concerning the sixth arrested minor.
In 2013, 11 adolescents were arrested for involvement in the drug trade, down from the 20 in 2012, according to SENAD.
After being arrested, offenders are turned over to the Office of the Prosecutor, which takes the cases before the court. Depending on the severity of the case, minors can face charges, be sentenced to house arrest or ordered to receive treatment at the National Addiction Control Center.
“This is a matter of concern due to the fact these young people are entering into the drug trade at increasingly younger ages,” SENAD said in a prepared statement.
SENAD Communications Director Francisco Ayala said it’s alarming minors are “easy prey” to be taken on as small-time narco-traffickers.
“We are concerned to see that there was an average of two [minors] arrested a month from January to March 2014,” Ayala said.
Graciela Barreto, the director of SENAD’s Demand Reduction Unit, said dealing with the presence of minors in narco-trafficking cases should be a national priority.
The government promotes a variety of programs to keep vulnerable children from drug use and narco-trafficking.
In January 2014, SENAD started the “Sana Aventura” program, which benefited about 500 children from the city of San Antonio, where they participated in dance, music, sports and painting workshops. The goal was to motivate them and raise their awareness about the danger of drugs.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Interior is developing a Drug Use Prevention Campaign in the country’s schools. The goal is to provide students with “information about the negative consequences of drug use,” a press release reads.
“[The involvement of minors in the drug trade] must be reversed due to the fact that we, as a state institution, are to protect children and adolescents,” Barreto said. “These are vulnerable minors who, due to a lack of family support, easily fall into drug use, and that quickly leads to drug trafficking, too.”
From 2009 to 2012, 820 minors were admitted into the National Addiction Control Center, with crack use being one of the leading causes. From January to August 2013, 261 adolescents – including those hospitalized and receiving outpatient treatment – received pediatric consultation at this rehabilitation center, which is the country’s only such public institution.
Ayala said it’s not possible to generalize about the reasons that lead minors to enter the drug trade.
“However, there is a tendency for adolescents who are addicts and who dedicate themselves to micro-trafficking to have family issues, with parents who abandoned them or were unable to provide them with a fixed home,” he said.
Ayala added SENAD found adolescents as young as 15 selling small doses of crack and marijuana.
“They’re just a few rungs down the ladder from large-scale drug trafficking,” he said.
He’s also worried drug use is involved in 90% of cases of minors acting as micro-traffickers.
“We have cases of trafficker/addicts,” Ayala said. “It’s a perverse circle that includes addicts who are, at the same time, used by drug traffickers, who take advantage of their addictions.”
To prevent minors from falling into drug trafficking, Barreto pointed out “it’s necessary to identify cases, put them into context and work with each adolescent involved.”
“The people who run micro-trafficking businesses see an opportunity to put the responsibility for selling drugs on addicted minors,” she said.
From Jan. 1 to May 7, SENAD’s Micro-Trafficking Reduction Unit seized 31,215 doses of crack – an average of 244 doses a day – in the Central Department alone, which includes Asunción and 19 urban municipalities.
With 44 operations carried out nationwide this year, this unit arrested 63 individuals suspected of being involved in the micro-trafficking of narcotics.