Fleeing stifling poverty, extreme violence and intimidation, Central American families and children are making the difficult decision to leave home in search of safety and a better life. Along the way, they risk being kidnapped, trafficked, raped or killed. Most come from the countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
There is no sign this trend is letting up, as UNICEF vividly detailed in the report, Uprooted in Central America and Mexico.
“Millions of children in the region are victims of poverty, indifference, violence, forced migration and the fear of deportation," said María Cristina Perceval, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. "In many cases, children who are sent back to their countries have no home to return to, end up deep in debt or are targeted by gangs. Being returned to impossible situations makes it more likely they will migrate again."
Refugee and migrant children must protected on every step of their journey. Here's how UNICEF is taking action to support kids and families forced to leave their homes — and how you can help: https://t.co/IP7L9pB07Y#AChildIsAChild pic.twitter.com/x4IsCUpIYX— UNICEF USA (@UNICEFUSA) June 18, 2019
Mexico is implementing measures to safeguard the rights of children who are passing through or seeking asylum there, but challenges persist. According to government statistics, more than 30,000 children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador temporarily ended up in detention centers in 2018. So far, more than 21,000 children have been detained in 2019.
UNICEF is working to find safe alternatives to detention, which can have serious long-term health consequences, and to protect all children, wherever their journeys take them. Of the more than 68,000 children detained in Mexico between 2016 and April 2018, 91 percent were deported back to Central America.
Even if they reach the U.S., these children confront new risks. Children traveling with a parent risk swift deportation or months of detention. In May 2018, the U.S. southern border crossing became even more hazardous when over 2,000 migrant children were detained and separated from their families, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and creating toxic stress that threatens to harm their long-term development.
UNICEF is using its decades of humanitarian expertise to help vulnerable migrant children in the U.S. UNICEF USA and partners work to support and expand existing protection measures, which include alternatives to detention, advocacy and the strengthening of the sponsor system.
To help alleviate the root causes of the crisis, UNICEF is also working with governments in Central America and Mexico to protect children from violence, crime and other threats and to support education and health programs. UNICEF also advocates for the protection of children's rights throughout their journeys.
Agenda for Action
UNICEF uses a six-point plan to keep uprooted children around the world healthy and safe. But each point has a human story behind it. Check them out below.