They'd donned their best outfits, brushed their hair, and applied make-up, using one another as mirrors, as if going to a dance or a day out on the town. ) began playing on a mottled, patchy field of overgrown grass.
The girls congregating outside were lower down in the gang pecking order.
Young women and girls can more easily slip by as they mule drugs or pick up bi-weekly extortion payments.
Girls are assets to the gangs—inconspicuous foot soldiers, and excellent cannon fodder.
In 2015, the government of El Salvador registered 575 femicides—the gender-motivated killing of women.
It was the country's second-highest femicide rate in 15 years (2011 was the highest).
Valentina, a chubby 17-year-old wearing hot-pink spandex shorts, pink Converse, pigtails, and heavy eyeliner, sat on a cement bench in the back of a courtyard, hunched over a cell phone she had half-concealed between her knees.Another 17-year-old inmate ran over to the bench and handed her baby to Valentina's friend, then sprinted to the pitch, adjusting her floral bra, which peeked from beneath her shirt.At 18 months old, the boy had been living in this prison his whole life."Here, Papi!Valentina and Dalia are among the tens of thousands of girls who have become involved in El Salvador's strengthening organized-crime rings, either as full-fledged members, as girlfriends (sometimes by choice, often by force), or as loosely affiliated helpers (mothers and sisters, for example, who cook for the gangs).Since 2003, the government of El Salvador has attempted to crack down on gangs using La Mano Dura (Iron Fist) campaigns, but with minimal success.But, she insisted, she wasn't forced to do what she'd done.Unless, that is, you consider the force of the larger circumstances: the lack of socioeconomic options for poor youth in El Salvador, the pervasive violence against women, and the near total impunity for such crimes.As femicide rates have risen over the past decade, so has the number of young women and girls entering gang life.That fact can be attributed, in part, to the extraordinary growth of the gangs themselves, but it also reflects a survival instinct: Girls are increasingly joining gangs in order to protect themselves and their loved ones." Valentina said as she fed him a dollop of blue ice cream from her fingertip.Before long, visiting hours would be over, the field empty, and the girls back upstairs in the dark confines of the dormitory.