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As it becomes painfully obvious that more policing is not the answer, many parents and leaders are calling for better care for the young — such as Spider-Man and his friends.
"In just a few more years, these kids are going to be sucked into the narco world," says Leonardo Yánez, an early-childhood development expert with the Holland-based Bernard van Leer Foundation, which funds child-advocacy programs worldwide, including some in Juárez. "Early childhood is the point where a rupture can be made."
But there are few places for kids to go when their parents head to work, which is often. Juárez has more mothers working outside the home than any other city in Mexico — 80,000 formally employed by maquilas alone. Men work too, or have gone north, or are slowly dying off (90 percent of the post-2008 murders are of men). Yet only six of every 100 kids in Juárez have access to a day-care facility. As a result, according to Red por la Infancia, 44 percent of working mothers leave their youngsters alone at some point during the day.
Leaving small children alone in any city can potentially damage them, but in Juárez, the consequences can be grave. "You have kids exposed to inhuman levels of violence," Jusidman says, "and then [they are] left without care and support to deal with those experiences."
Through a campaign named Hazlo por Juárez (Do It for Juárez), Red por la Infancia activists are pushing newly elected leaders to fund and expand centers such as the OPI day-care and to double the number of spaces available because, they say, these centers can make a difference in these children's lives.
"In 2008, when the violence got out of hand, we saw it immediately in the kids," OPI's Castillo says. The children became aggressive and talked of extreme violence as a normal occurrence, she explains.
Teachers can make a difference by asking key questions, Castillo says. When a child talks about wanting to murder his peers, Castillo explains, staff can ask, "But that would make your friend cry, right?" or "How do you think his little brother would feel if he could no longer play with his sibling?"
"Now the kids who were with us then are calm again," Castillo says. But, she notes, "Every time a new kid comes in, we start all over again, giving them special attention until they are able to shed that edge."
Six-year-old Guillermo's next-door neighbor is a ghost, "un niño" who inhabits the abandoned two-story brick house across the driveway from the boy's small three-bedroom home. "I can hear him sometimes," says the slight first-grader with a buzzcut. "The ghost makes noises but doesn't speak." Down the street, there are more spirit neighbors.
Guillermo's block in the middle-class neighborhood is filled with skeletons of Juárez's recent population flight: abandoned homes and storefronts with peeling paint and blown-out windows. "Those up there are really mean," the boy says, pointing toward the second floor of a vacant building on the corner. His gaze lingers momentarily on the darkness beyond one glassless window before he turns away.
The middle child of three casually says, "There are dead people all over Juárez." He watches the nightly TV crime highlights, and murders are a favorite conversation topic between his older sister and her friends. Unfortunately for Guillermo, the ghosts don't always like to stay hidden. They sit on benches and lie in the road alongside Hidalgo Park across the street from his house.
But in an interesting twist of fate, the one square block of green that sits 50 yards from Guillermo's front door is slowly becoming populated by a more lively crowd. "We realized that our city has beautiful spaces but that they had been abandoned out of fear," says 26-year-old Susana Molina, a hip-hop musician better known in Juárez as Oveja Negra, or Black Sheep. It's 7 o'clock on a recent summer night, and she's standing in Hidalgo Park surrounded by scampering kids and the rhythms of Bob Marley. "We decided it was time to leave the house and occupy public spaces as a way of taking our city back," she says.