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Farrin R. Anello

This chapter focuses on a rare and complex situation: that of a child who flees a gang after having been actively involved in gang activities. Such a child falls into what researcher Thomas Boerman calls the ‘Trap of Gang Membership’. Gang leaders view renouncing gang membership as betrayal, and defectors from their ranks face imminent torture and murder. Conversely, having been marked (often tattooed) as a gang member, defectors cannot reintegrate into society in their countries of origin, and continue to be targeted for death by rival gangs and police. Like former child soldiers in more traditional armed conflicts, formerly gang-involved children are frequently survivors of extreme violence and trauma. Adolescents, moreover, share a particular susceptibility both to coercion and risk-taking, making them prime recruitment targets for both gang leaders and military leaders. On the other hand, young people also show a particular capacity for change and rehabilitation. Even in extreme cases, governments can both protect children and provide them with the support structures needed to become peaceful and contributing members of their communities.