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Many South American children only reach Mexico in their flight to the U.S.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 3rd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Children fleeing bad or abusive home situations in their native countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador flee and try to find a better life in the United States. For many of these teenagers, they find themselves mired in Mexico, where they often find themselves homeless and hungry. For many of these runaways, Mexico equals the end of a better life in America.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The flow of Central American migrants to the United States grew in the Eighties due to the civil wars broiling in the region. Since then family breakdown has become an even bigger problem. In many cases, parents leave their families in search of a better future and leave their children in the care of grandparents or other relatives.

Other motives, such as domestic violence have driven children and adolescents to leave the region. Girls who had been beaten or raped by stepfathers or other relatives, have prompted them to travel to the United States without proper identification.

Young Hondurans and Salvadorans who also come out to their families as gay were mistreated and ultimately thrown out of their homes.

According to the national police, there were 1,028 complaints filed of intra-family violence in El Salvador between January and June, nearly twice as many as the cases reported in the whole of last year.

When detained in Mexico, Central American children have few options. They either face deportation, or they can live in Mexico and contend with constant violations of their rights.

Statistics from Mexico's National Migration Institute indicate that between January and July, 3,391 Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran children were deported, 50 percent more than in the same period in 2011.

Of these refugee children, 2,801 were unaccompanied, showing how vulnerable these migrant children are. Many fall astray of "coyotes" or people smugglers.

"Many of them are caught up in human trafficking networks," Jaime Rivas, the coordinator of the migrations program of the government's National Directorate of Investigations says.

"Things are no longer as they were when 'coyotes' were heroes who helped people reach the north. Now it is human trafficking networks linked to organized crime that move migrants," he said.

Many children are also fleeing youth gangs in the violent northern countries of Central America, which force teenagers to join. If they refuse to join, they may be murdered.

In El Salvador alone there are an estimated 60,000 gang members, belonging to the MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) or Barrio 18 gangs.

A report entitled "Captured Childhood," published in June by the International Detention Coalition, a human rights organization with member groups in 50 countries, says that regardless of the conditions in which children are kept in detention for trying to cross a border, "detention has a profound and negative impact on children.

"Children are at risk of suffering depression and anxiety, as well as from symptoms such as insomnia. It undermines their psychological and physical health and compromises their development," the report says.

Undocumented children should not be detained, and recommends that governments create public policies for their protection, the report concludes.

Those children who choose to stay in Mexico without documentation are exposed to extreme vulnerability in terms of labor conditions. It's estimated that 33 percent of child migrants worked in agriculture, often putting in long work days for below average pay.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

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