A former Sudanese boy soldier who was forced to fight at the age of 7 visited Ciudad Juárez, Mexico's murder capital, to urge young people in the border city to avoid getting involved in crime.
Emmanuel Jal performed in a hip hop concert Saturday in Juárez to promote justice, equality and the prevention of conflicts.
"There is another path, the path of good," the 32-year-old singer told young people in Ciudad Juárez, located across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.
Jal was given a rifle as a boy and fought in his country's Second Civil War with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, or SPLM.
As an adult, however, he decided to trade bullets for words of hope.
"I believe I survived for one reason: to tell my story to small children," the first verse of his song "Warchild" says.
Jal performed before about 1,500 people at Ciudad Juárez's Centro Cultural Paso del Norte.
Although no official statistics are available on child victims of Mexico's drug-related violence, estimates are that more than 1,000 children and teenagers have been gunned down in the past four years, while between 10,000 and 30,000 others have been orphaned, Mexican Children's Rights Network executive director Juan Martin Perez Garcia said.
"In Mexico, there is a climate of generalized violence where stray bullets, crossfire in areas near schools, direct attacks (and) massacres of youths mean that the peace necessary for the adequate development of boys and girls has been affected," Perez said.
Many young people, moreover, have joined drug cartels as enforcers or drug dealers just to earn a living, Perez said.
"Some children want to join the organizations voluntarily, but the majority are recruited by force and made to work for criminals under threats," Perez said.
The Children's Peace Association, Omnilife and the Social Development Administration invited Jal to bring his message of hope to Ciudad Juárez's young people.
"Emmanuel brought messages that are sometimes hard and sad, but always hopeful and with the goal that our children will stay away from the criminals. I think he came at a good time because the situation here is really bad for the children," Marta Robles, the mother of children ages 7 and 12, told Efe.
"I liked the concert, he sings really softly and even though I didn't understand some of the words, I listened to the messages he had for us," 13-year-old Raul said.
"I like it for good people to come to Ciudad Juárez and speak about positive things," the teenager said.
Ciudad Juárez currently ranks No. 2 on the list of most violent cities in the world, trailing only San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
More than 3,100 people were murdered in Juárez in 2010, while around 2,000 people were killed in the border city last year.