8 September 2023: Reuters

Poor young Ecuadoreans are choosing to join criminal gangs as an easy way to escape poverty due to a lack of opportunity, according to a UN Special Rapporteur, who urged the country to increase social investment to combat violence.

Lawlessness has soared across Ecuador since the coronavirus pandemic, something outgoing President Guillermo Lasso blames on disputes related to drug trafficking and common crime.

Some 27% of Ecuadoreans live in poverty, while 10.8% live in extreme poverty on a national level, according to the government’s statistics office.

Those figures skyrocket in rural areas, to 46.4% and 22.6% respectively.

Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said impoverished youth were easy picking for gangs looking to recruit new members.

“Poverty afflicts particularly the young adults in this country, and many in fact choose either to join the gangs or to migrate to the U.S.,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

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