Plan International's Statement on Migrant Children’s Situation in Central America
The levels of violence within countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, combined with poor job prospects, has led to an ever increasing wave of undocumented and unaccompanied children emigrants from Central America to the United States. Since the beginning of this year, tens of thousands of youngsters travelling alone have crossed the Rio Grande River along the Mexican-United States border and gained entry into the United States.
This is an urgent humanitarian situation and requires additional high-level governmental efforts to provide humanitarian relief and protection to these girls and boys.
The main cause that has led to this increased movement of children appears to be the deteriorating safety and security in their countries of origin. UNHCR’s report, “Children on the Run” provides evidence of this through interviews with children - 58% of whom claim that they are fleeing chronic violence and immediate life-threatening situations.
In May 2014 alone, over 9,500 unaccompanied children, the vast majority from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, were intercepted crossing the border into the USA and taken into US Government custody.
The current situation has heightened concerns as to whether the full spectrum of children’s rights is being met while in government custody. That is, have the existing mechanisms to safeguard the protection of the most vulnerable – which were already fragile before the surge in arrivals – been further compromised? To get an idea of the increase, the number of children in US government custody has gone from 6,560 in the fiscal year (FY) 2011 to an anticipated minimum of 60,000 in FY14.
Plan has already started to work on this issue. At the end of July, Plan hosted a seminar in McAllen, Texas, for 50 consular authorities from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. International consuls and vice-ministers also participated.
Nancy Zúñiga, Protection Officer from Plan’s International Headquarters; Yesenia Segovia, Gender and Protection Officer from El Salvador, and José Campang, Program Manager from Plan Guatemala jointly conducted the workshop, that lasted three days, and where other organizations, like UNICEF, also participated.
Some of the topics covered in the workshop included: the situation of migrant unaccompanied children; the human rights approach and their right to protection; migration route analysis; the risks the migrant boys and girls are facing; how to respect children; and how to avoid their re-victimization.
Plan in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua are offering to implement and seek funding for in-country activities focusing on: child protection, health (mental and psychological) and the provision of water and sanitation facilities in the shelters that will open to receive the returned girls and boys in those countries. It’s from those shelters that the children will be picked up by their families and will return to their hometowns.
Matthew Carlson, Plan’s Deputy Regional Director (Programs) for the Americas said: "These migrant unaccompanied children are fleeing violence and persecution, risking their lives just to survive, and looking for a better future that they don't feel is possible in their home countries. This is an urgent humanitarian crisis and all must remember that they are children, first and foremost, and therefore primary consideration must be given to the best interests of the child."
"On my visit to the border, I could just see the multiple dangers that these children have face and continue to be exposed to, and the lack of resources to provide them with the protection that they need."