Number of Children Trying to Flee Central America More Than Doubled in 2014

Sara* (17) holds hands with her family. They attempted to migrate to the US from El Salvador in August making them one of hundreds of families to be returned to the repatriation center in El Salvador being supported by Save the Children. Photo Credit:
         Dorothy Sang/Save the Children
Sara* (17) holds hands with her family. They attempted to migrate to the US from El Salvador in August making them one of hundreds of families to be returned to the repatriation center in El Salvador being supported by Save the Children. Photo Credit: Dorothy Sang/Save the Children

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 30, 2014) - More than 18,000 children have been deported from Mexico and the United States this year - a staggering increase from the previous year - and being returned to the abject poverty and violence they were fleeing in Central America.

Many deported children have described cases of sexual and violent abuse by human traffickers, and report detrimental treatment by authorities at the borders, including verbal and physical maltreatment by staff in detention centers, as well as food deprivation.

“I was worried the police would rape me. They were really mean,” said 13-year-old Jennifer*, who fled El Salvador after a gang murdered her uncle and cousins.

“Many of the returning children show signs of having suffered abuse along the way, and are coming back with severe physical and emotional damage. They often arrive in a state of hopelessness, fear and denial and end up being returned to the dangerous situations they were fleeing,” said Lucía Rodríguez, project coordinator at Save the Children in El Salvador.

During 2014 alone, a staggering 8,400 children are estimated to have returned to Honduras[i]. In El Salvador, the number more than doubled from 1,600 in 2013 to 4,500 in 2014[ii], and Guatemala also saw a dramatic increase from 2,500 in 2013 to 5,300 in 2014[iii].

Central America is one of the most dangerous places to be a child. Boys under the age of 19 are more likely to die in homicide than anything else. The majority of deported children are teenage boys aged between 15 and 17 years old, traveling alone, but there are also many young mothers with children of various ages, as well as unaccompanied and separated children as young as 12.

“One mother arrived at the government-run repatriation center in San Salvador, with her three-year-old son, and he could hardly speak. From what we could understand, both mother and son had fallen victims to horrifying events along the way, including sexual abuse. The boy was traumatized,” Rodríguez added.

“Many families have spent all their savings to afford the trip and sometimes have even sold their house. They come back to nothing.”

Sandra*, a mother of four, who gave up everything to try and get her family to the U.S. after her brother and brother-in-law were murdered by gangs in her neighborhood said, “We don’t own the house we live in now. This is my mum’s house, but I begged her to sell it so we could leave because of the danger we are in here.”

Such testimonies illustrate the precarious situations migrant children and families routinely expose themselves to, and highlight the urgent need for governments to better protect migrant children and ensure their basic human rights, according to Beat Rohr, Regional Director for Save the Children in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“This involves not only improving the support for migrant children in the U.S. and Mexico and other countries they transit through, but also tackling the root causes of the violence and poverty which led them to leave their home countries in the first place,” Rohr said.

“This is a regional issue, and requires a concerted and well-coordinated response which can ensure these children have a better tomorrow.”

Save the Children has been working closely with Salvadoran government agencies to respond to the crisis, and was the only NGO in El Salvador offering psychological support to returning children in 2014.

In 2015, the agency is aiming to secure longer-term funding to ensure a comprehensive and holistic programmatic approach to the worsening situation in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

In Mexico and the U.S., the agency is also working on various initiatives including coordination with relevant government institutions to improve the situation for children in transit centers, and providing support to border officials and reunification projects.

In order to ensure that migrant children receive the treatment and care they need, Save the Children recommends that governments, supported by intergovernmental agencies and civil society, should:

  • Address root causes by dedicating funding to address issues of violence, poverty and other root causes, that drive migration from the countries of origin
  • Establish clear guidelines for government departments, agencies and local authorities to ensure the protection of migrant children in transit and at arrival in the U.S. and Mexico, in full compliance with international human rights standards
  • Provide migrant children with appropriate case-by-case screenings and a fair judicial process to ensure that they are not being returned to life-threatening situations, and ensure that children and their families are made aware of their legal rights and options
  • Monitor migrant children’s immediate and long-term needs, to ensure effective and child-focused responses and support, both during migration and upon arrival in the country of destination

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I Informe Estadístico de las Personas Retornadas a Honduras Periodo Enero a Septiembre 2014. Centro Nacional de Información del Sector Social, 2014. (Statistical Report on returnees to Honduras during the period January to September 2014. National Information Center of the Social Sector, 2014.)

II Dirección General de Migración y Extranjera, El Salvador (The General Directorate of Migration & Foreign policy, El Salvador)

III Dirección General de Migración de Guatemala (The General Directorate of Migration, Guatemala)


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