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Migrant kids are moving through Latin America and the Caribbean in record numbers, UN says

Syra Ortiz Blanes, Miami Herald on

Published in Parenting News

More migrant children than ever are transiting through Latin America and the Caribbean, and they are uniquely vulnerable to the threats of the region’s dangerous migration routes, according to a new report from the United Nations’ lead child-welfare agency.

“More and more children are on the move, of an increasingly young age, often alone and from diverse countries of origin, including from as far away as Africa and Asia,” said Garry Conille, director of UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean, in a statement. “When they cross several countries and sometimes the entire region, disease and injury, family separation and abuse may plague their journeys and, even if they make it to their destination, their futures often remain at risk.”

The record number of migrant children coincides with the historic levels of irregular migration the Western hemisphere has experienced in recent years, and that the United States and other countries are struggling to contain as people flee simultaneous social, political, economic and environmental crises in Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries in the region.

Children make up about a quarter of all people on the move in Latin America and the Caribbean, higher than the total percent of migrant children at the global level, which is 13%, UNICEF said. And most of the children moving through the region are very young: as many as 91% were under age 11 along certain “key transit points” examined by the agency.

“We are no longer talking about young adults, single men, looking for a better life. We are talking about the profile of the migration drastically changing in the last decade. We are seeing more families, families with children, sometimes children alone,” said Laurent Duvillier, regional chief of Communications and Advocacy for Latin America and the Caribbean for the agency.

The agency doesn’t have estimates for the total number of children moving through the region. But the report identifies three major migration flows where the volume of children “has reached record highs:” The Darien Gap, a dangerous stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama; out of Venezuela, which is facing a humanitarian crisis that has pushed over 7 million people to leave since 2014; and northern Central America and Mexico, heading north to the U.S. border.


The report also identifies places in which a “smaller, yet significant movement of people” is also happening. They include migrants leaving Cuba and Nicaragua, a flow of people between Andean countries, and the thousands of people coming to Latin America and the Caribbean from places as far as Afghanistan, Cameroon, Somalia and Bangladesh.

“It’s clearly not a border issue between two countries. This is a continental issue that requires a continental solution that requires all the governments to come together and look at migrant children for who they are and to protect their specific rights,” Duvillier said.

He emphasized that the different flows “don’t necessarily aim towards the United States,” using the example of migrants in South America who stay in neighboring countries in the continent to be closer to home, or Haitians who moved to Chile and Brazil after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people.

More than 330,000 people have crossed the Darien Gap this year, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Marta Hurtado on Tuesday. About 20% of crossers were children, she added, saying that the resources of the Panamanian government were stretched thin because of the large volume of migrants flowing through the treacherous stretch of wilderness. The journey, which goes through mountains, hills, and rivers, can take up to 10 days under tropical rains during the wet season. There is also the presence of human trafficking rings and criminals who pose a threat to migrants, as well as dangerous animals such as jaguars and snakes.


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