An issue of great importance in Latin America is what it means to become a youth, and more specifically, a juvenile victim or perpetrator of violence in relation to the territory and overall context of criminality in this region. Considering the historic singularities, an investigation of what it means to be/become must include what it means to be and become a young Indigenous, Black, mixed-race, or white youth and either poor, middle class, or wealthy. Admittedly, it is practically impossible to capture every existing difference in the juvenile condition in the region.
The study of these issues in Latin America must be approached by considering its history of colonialism, which subjugated its various cultures. One must also consider the long-term consequences of the military dictatorships that hounded the region for decades. Youth have also been affected by the global integration processes and the era of neoliberal policies. When studying juvenile deviant behavior and crime, we must consider the deep and cyclical economic crises that have scourged the region—the inherited disadvantages, the structural inequalities, and the lack of fundamental rights that impact what it means to be/become a youth in this region.
Self-inflicted, interpersonal, collective, and political violent behaviors affect Latin American youths. A salient form of aggression comes from lethal armed violence as well as other crimes that have specific regional traits. In most cases, the deviant behavior is a result of interpersonal conflicts. However, in other situations, collective violence is caused either by precarious urban settlements plagued by violence or by the presence of criminal organizations that affect their everyday life.
Widespread gender violence is also a problem in the region. Young women and girls are subject to systematic victimization: sexual, racial, occupational, and political. Latin America faces a profound crisis of gender violence, with a constant increase in its most fatal form: femicides.
In this context, national authorities have developed public policies but, for the most part, they still are ineffective in mitigating the problems.
One of the most important difficulties faced when reforming juvenile justice systems in the region is recognizing adolescents as entitled to human rights and terminating the old inquisitorial or tutelage model. We must take into account that in this region, there is a cyclical demand for more punitive measures and hard-line policies against juvenile offenders.