The use of teenagers as killers by the drug cartels is common in Mexico, and the kids are known as "narco juniors." Earlier this month CNN reported that Los Zetas, a paramilitary organization that provides enforcement muscle for the Gulf Cartel, has recruited U.S. teenagers as young as 13 years old to carry out its enforcement hits on the north side of the border. NPR now reports that "the cartels have begun seeking younger and younger recruits" as sicaritos or child assassins:
Mexican drug cartels recruit children under 18 for the same reasons that armed forces conscript boy soldiers in Sierra Leone and Somalia — their immaturity produces fearlessness. And for a young boy at the margin of society, cartel membership brings instant respect.
The Mexican drug cartels also use young teenagers as so-called mules to smuggle drugs over the border, and earlier this month police arrested several kids crossing into El Paso, TX from Juarez, Mexico with drugs strapped to their bodies:
Four 15-year-old pedestrians were caught with marijuana strapped to their bodies in separate smuggling attempts this week at the Zaragoza Bridge. he arrests took place as authorities caution that drug cartels may be trying to recruit teens at schools in El Paso and Juárez to move illegal drugs into the U.S. "It's a serious matter for kids to be involved in drug trafficking," said County Attorney José Rodríguez, whose office prosecutes crimes committed by juveniles. "It cannot only endanger themselves but their family as well." On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers caught two boys with 7 and 8 pounds of marijuana each strapped to their backs. Wednesday night, officers busted two other teens with a total of 10 pounds of marijuana strapped to their bodies. Two of the teens are Juárez residents while the other two are U.S. citizens, CBP officials said. It was not revealed where they attend school.