October 8, 2019 – Urgent concerns around protections for migrant and refugee children and young people have surged into the public debate over the week. As the world celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this year, and countries in Central America celebrate the “Day of the Child”, it is worth reflecting on the fragile state of protections available for migrant and asylum-seeking children. We must also consider the conditions in countries of origin that force children to flee their countries and continue to threaten those who are deported.
Last month, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), along with a group of civil society organizations, held a hearing to denounce the human rights violations being committed against migrant children and youth in Central America, Mexico and the United States. On October 3, Alianza Americas co-organized a webinar with organizations In Mexico to discuss the lack of protections given to migrant youth in Mexico in that country.
In both the hearing and online webinar, the discussion revolved around the lack of attention being given to the violence forcing children to flee the region with family members or on their own. Instead of granting them protection, Central American, Mexican and US governments are detaining and deporting children, restricting access to the asylum process, and failing to take into account the best interest of the child. Organizations in our webinar condemned Mexico’s role in this crisis, as children are being detained in dangerous conditions that put their health and safety at risk.
New statistics speak to the gravity of the situation facing young people. In the first seven months of 2019, 1,798 people were reported missing in El Salvador, 551 of whom were children. This means that 31% of missing persons cases were children, 53% of which were girls, and 65% young people between 13 and 17 years old. The Attorney General announced a new alert system called “Disappeared Angel” in 2013 to confront the issue of missing children, but the system has not been implemented on the scale that was initially promised. In 2018, there were 696 missing children cases in El Salvador, as well as 476 cases in Honduras and 5,704 in Guatemala, of which 1,349 remain unsolved. The disparity in these numbers is due in part to differences in reporting systems. But the mere fact that thousands of children go missing each year, reflects the weakness of these governments to protect children and the need for assistance and protection for asylum-seeking children and their families.
Current youth migrant crisis worse than 2014
The year 2014 was an important marker in the exodus of Central Americans seeking protection in the United States. President Barack Obama deemed the situation at the time “a humanitarian crisis”. However, when comparing trends over the past several years, more children are fleeing the region now than ever before. Since August 2019, 19,686 unaccompanied children from Honduras were apprehended, 1,452 more than in 2014. The number of unaccompanied children from Guatemala also increased from 17,057 in 2014 to 29,602 in 2019.
Weak protection systems for children extend from countries of origin, through transit, and into the United States. Guaranteeing nutrition, health, education and safety for children should be basic priorities to create conditions for children to thrive and no longer be forced to flee.
You can view our webinar “Unprotected Youth in Mexico” (Spanish only) at the following link: