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Children who migrate: death row

According to Unicef and the International Organisation for Migration, between 2014 and 2018, one migrant child died or disappeared every 24 hours. During this period 1,600 minors died, but the figure could be much higher because many deaths went unrecorded. In 2019 this tragedy has not stopped.

 

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Oscar Alberto Martinez, aged 25, and Valeria, 23 months old, were pulled under by the currents at the end of June when they tried to cross the border between Mexico and the United States near the town of Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state.

When the bodies resurfaced, several hours later, they were still embracing each other, as was captured on film by journalist Julia Le Duc, from La Jornada newspaper, who expressed her hope that this image would prick consciences.

According to the Fatal Journeys report, by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), from 2014 to 2018, one migrant child was reported dead or missing every 24 hours in the world.

According to the document, during this period 1,600 minors died, although the figure could be much higher because many deaths went unrecorded.

“The lack of data on the ages, characteristics and vulnerabilities of missing migrant children creates serious protection gaps; it makes it very difficult to create programs and policies designed to protect them,” said Frank Laczko, director of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre.

It is known that from Mexico and the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America hundreds of families, and even minors without their parents, head towards the United States in search of better opportunities.

There are two fundamental causes behind this migration: the first one is poverty. According to the UNICEF’s report “Uprooted in Mexico and Central America”, in Honduras there is 74% child poverty, in Guatemala 68% and in Mexico 54%.

Another factor that influences human mobility is violence. Central America is one of the regions in the world with the highest number of murders, with 62.1 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime study.

This phenomenon is associated with drug trafficking and organised crime, as the region is a passage for narcotics from the south of the continent to the United States, the largest consumer of drugs in the world.

This scourge is also linked to youth gangs, which have become a greater and greater problem in countries of the Northern Triangle, that is Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

In my years of work in Guatemala as a correspondent for Prensa Latina I had the opportunity to visit the Mario Alioto settlement, in the town of Villa Nueva, one of the most violent places in the country, where a cultural project has been developed to try and keep children out of gangs.

Getting a young person out of these groups is difficult because from an early age, between 8 and 12 years old, many of them join gangs and are responsible for collecting “taxes” (blackmail) from shops and bus drivers.

Thanks to this initiative, a theatre group was created there, with the goal of turning children away from drugs and crime through artistic expression. A laudable project, but still not enough because it is the Government who must take on the responsibility for protecting childhood and youth and investing in programs for this sector.

The lack of public policies, limited access to services and quality education, inequality and extreme poverty drive many children, sometimes with their families and other times unaccompanied, to start this voyage towards North American lands.

They are forced to take unusual and dangerous routes, and many suffer from hunger, exploitation and abuse on the way. Some even lose their lives, as they fall prey to smugglers, criminals and other forms of organised crime.

Of those who manage to cross the border, the vast majority are arrested, separated from any family members and returned to their countries of origin.

The situation for migrants worsened with the hardening of the media through the United States Administration, President Donald Trump, and his zero-tolerance policy, which tries and processes them as undocumented criminals.

In the detention centres, minors separated from their parents suffer cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that ranges from abuse, victimisation, even overcrowding and hunger, according to claims from international organisations such as the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The UN asked the countries of origin, transit and destination to work together and adopt policies that take into account the fundamental causes of these migrations. (PL)

(Translated by Donna Davison. Email: donna_davison@hotmail.com) – Photos: Pixabay

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