At the age 16, Alexis packed his meager belongings and hit the road, hoping to escape the bitter poverty in which he grew up in Honduras. But for Alexis, the journey ended in Mexico, when he fell off a freight train and lost his right leg.
At the age 16, Alexis and a cousin packed their meager belongings and hit the road, hoping to escape the bitter poverty in which they grew up in Honduras. But for Alexis, the journey ended in Mexico, when he fell off a freight train, losing his right leg.
© UNICEF/UN028113/Zehbrauskas

Every month, fleeing violent gangs and stifling poverty, thousands of Central American children risk being kidnapped, trafficked, raped or killed during dangerous journeys to the United States. Most come from the countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala

There is no sign this trend is letting up, as UNICEF vividly details in a report, Broken Dreams: Central American Children’s Dangerous Journey to the United States.

“It is heartrending to think of these children — most of them teenagers, but some even younger — making the grueling and extremely dangerous journey in search of safety and a better life,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. “This flow of young refugees and migrants highlights the critical importance of tackling the violence and socioeconomic conditions in their countries of origin.”

The facts are grim.

In the first six months of 2014, more than 44,500 children, unaccompanied by their parents, were apprehended at the U.S. border. The number dropped to almost 18,500 in the same period in 2015, but rose again in 2016 to almost 26,000 by June.

Source: International Organization for Migration, Migrant Routes from Central America to the United States, 2016

Approximately 16,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were apprehended in Mexico in the first six months of 2016.

Even if they reach the U.S., these children confront new risks. Children traveling with a parent risk swift deportation or months of detention. Unaccompanied children apprehended in the U.S. are guaranteed an immigration court hearing, but are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney.

To help put an end to the crisis, UNICEF works with governments in Central America and Mexico to try to alleviate these causes. Through various programs, it strengthens services that reduce the vulnerability of children to violence, crime and other threats, and supports programmes for education and health, with special focus on the most affected and vulnerable communities.

UNICEF also works to strengthen services that reduce the vulnerability of children to violence, with a strong focus on education and health. It also advocates for the protection of children's rights throughout their journey, and for governments to provide assistance to returnee children.

Children on the Run