Interactive: Mexico's drug-trafficking landscape
Video: Mexico's lost generation
Transcript of: Mexico's lost generation
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Regular viewers of our broadcast know we've been running a series of reports we call THE WAR NEXT DOOR about the violent drug war in Mexico , just across the US border. Tonight, there's word that the Mexican military is looking for a suspected drug cartel hit man who is 12 years old. Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel went to Mexico and saw for himself an entire generation, really, getting swept up in this war next door .
Unidentified Man #1:
RICHARD ENGEL reporting: 14, 15, 16 years old, desperate, vulnerable, and preyed upon by the drug cartels . Living at a highway intersection, we meet a dozen children.
Under the bridges and behind the bus stations in Mexico City you'll find them: They're so high, they're difficult to understand, except when they tell us they're hungry.
Unidentified Man #2:
ENGEL: Stoned on rags soaked in paint thinner or PVC cement. Edward is 16, but won't say how he got here. He's guarded and confused.
Unidentified Man #3:
ENGEL: 'The situation is great, fantastic,' he says. 'I love to drug myself and see other people destroying themselves. It's what I like best.'
ENGEL: When I ask Edward about the future, a blank. There are 20,000 children living on the streets just here in Mexico City . Almost all of them are locked into a cycle of drug addiction and prostitution, and they're also extremely vulnerable to be recruited by the drug cartels .
ENGEL: Sofia Almazan works at a center called Casa Alianza to help Mexico 's street children . Is the problem growing? But she says she has to compete with drug dealers who use children as runners, messengers, or just customers.
Ms. SOFIA ALMAZAN:
ENGEL: 'There are kids growing up to be assassins,' she says, 'because they have nothing else to lose.' Twenty-five -year-old Avalini knows how that can happen. At a rehabilitation center outside Mexico City , Avalini says she became addicted to cocaine by dating a boy in a gang.
ENGEL: Now shaking uncontrollably in withdrawal, Avalini she says the gang, linked to a powerful cartel, used her to seduce a rival so it could kill him.
ENGEL: 'I loved the feeling of adrenaline, to be in the thick of it , the power. I went in too deep,' she says. 'Do other young people like you want to be drug dealers ?' I ask.
AVALINI: 'Yes,' she says.
ENGEL: In therapy, Avalini sits next to 17-year-old Daniella .
Unidentified Man #3:
ENGEL: Daniella , also an addict, involved in gangs, is on tranquilizers because she cuts herself with her fingernails and glass.
ENGEL: But she defends the drug cartels , here called "narcos."
ENGEL: 'They create jobs,' she says. 'It's dirty money, but at least they give work to the poor farmers.'
ENGEL: In her room, Daniella keeps a journal. At the bottom of a page is her sad self-portrait. As the drug war here, social workers worry, is creating a lost generation. Richard Engel , NBC News, Mexico City .