More than 47,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the southwest border since October, according to U.S. government data, most of them coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that as many as 90,000 children could be stopped at the border by the end of this year, triple the number apprehended in 2013.
"It is important to understand how and why so many have sought refuge in the U.S. in order to address the root causes and prevent future crises," said U.S. Fund for UNICEF President and CEO Caryl M. Stern.
Children report fleeing because of violence, abuse, poverty and to reunite with family in the U.S., according to a UNHCR report, Children on the Run. Drug trafficking and weak law enforcement have contributed to a rise in brutal gang violence in which children are increasingly becoming targets. Murders of children in Honduras have increased by 77 percent over the last year, according to a report in the New York Times.
A spike in the number of migrant girls is of most concern. "Girls and the youngest are the most vulnerable and need special protective care," said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and Caribbean, in a statement on June 10.
As President Barack Obama called on Congress to provide $3.7 billion to address the surge last Tuesday, human rights advocates called for the U.S. Government to treat child migrants as refugees, not illegal immigrants.
UNICEF urges governments and all actors—including customs and law enforcement officers, care givers and the general public—to act in the best interests of the child above all else.
Learn more about UNICEF's work on child protection.