Generalized Violence as a Threat to Health and Well-Being: A Qualitative Study of Youth Living in Urban Settings in Central America's "Northern Triangle"

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Sep 18;16(18):3465. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16183465.


El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rank among the top 10 countries experiencing violence in the world, despite not being at war. Although there is abundant literature on generalized violence in this "northern triangle" of Central America as a driver of out-migration to the United States, very little is known about the perspectives and experiences of youth who do not migrate. This study aimed to elicit the emic perspectives of youth residing in the region on how the day-to-day generalized violence produces a pervasive threat to the overall health and human security of youth as well as the key protective factors and resiliencies at work. We conducted two separate waves of qualitative research in 2015 and 2018 over a 6-month period, which included 60 in-depth interviews and six focus groups among Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran youth living in urban areas. Qualitative thematic analysis revealed two meta-themes: (1) 'Lack of health,' defined as not experiencing peace within the family, the community, and the country' and (2) 'Resilience.' Thematic clusters that reflect the first meta-theme are: (1) violence as a common occurrence; (2) living in fear and insecurity; (3) victimization; and (4) lack of state protection and services. Thematic clusters for the second meta-theme are: (1) a positive future outlook and a commitment to education; (2) transnational and local family network support; and (3) engagement in community-based youth groups. To interpret the findings, we adopt the Latin American Social Medicine and Collective Health (LASM-CH) approach that prioritizes perspectives from the region. Generalized violence is conceptualized as a systemic phenomenon that is generated and reproduced through the complex interactions of structural inequities and unequal power relations. The findings of this study provide new insights into the implementation of a different approach to address the generalized violence, insights that may guide multi-sectoral health policies and interventions both in the region and transnationally.

Keywords: Central America; generalized violence; northern triangle; social determinants of health; youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data*
  • El Salvador
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Guatemala
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Honduras
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Violence / psychology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult