Recent news stories about border detention centers have described horrific conditions that migrant children as young as 5 months old are facing, from filthy clothes to inadequate sanitation facilities and lack of food. These innocent children fled from dire situations in their home countries, including poverty, malnutrition, insufficient opportunities for youth, disease, and other social factors—all of which are complicated by rampant violence and corruption. Their lives have been affected by such circumstances outside their control, and the U.S. administration’s current border enforcement policy is unacceptable. All children deserve to be protected and cared for, regardless of country of origin or economic status.
Children in such situations often witness violence and experience emotional stress, while their usual social support and education are disrupted. When they are separated from their parents or other caregivers and being treated as criminals in substandard and crowded facilities that were never meant to house children, they can become even more vulnerable. There is no acceptable place in this country for conditions in which babies and toddlers do not have clean diapers or access to toothbrushes, toothpaste, or soap—and it is an outrage that any children have died in U.S. custody.
The U.S. has long been at the forefront of welcoming and protecting vulnerable people and those fleeing violence and persecution around the world. At a time when a record 68.5 million people are being displaced by conflict and persecution—almost half of whom are children—it is more important than ever that the U.S. upholds its responsibilities to protect children and families. The consequences of failing to protect children can be life-shattering. The deep developmental and emotional scars borne out of violence and traumatic experiences can affect their ability to become healthy and emotionally balanced adults as much as any physical injury.
Plan International was founded in 1937 as a response to the Spanish Civil War, on the belief that people would see the children displaced by that conflict not as “war refugees,” but as children whose future was in doubt. In 1937 and the years that followed, millions of Americans answered that call, demonstrating the values of the nation and embracing our common humanity. That is why Plan International is calling on the U.S. administration and urging Congress to continue to act on those principles by adequately funding protections for children and stopping the unjust and inhumane border detention practices at the U.S.-Mexico border. The girls and boys forced by crisis and violence to flee their homes and nations should be supported in their time of need. As a world leader, the U.S. must provide hope and opportunity and prevent a lost generation of children.