UNICEF Warns of Unprecedented Child Migration Crisis Across LAC

UNITED NATIONS –The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that record numbers of children, who are on the move through Latin America and the Caribbean, face perilous journeys marked by violence, exploitation and abuse.

bchildA child rides his bicycle outside a UNICEF-supported humanitarian camp for migrant families in Chile. (Photo courtesy of UNICEF/Pablo Vera-Lisperguer)UNICEF said children in the region, driven from their homes by gang violence, instability, poverty and climate change, represent around 25 per cent of migrants– almost double the global average of 13 percent.

“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, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Director.

“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,” he added.

Along the dangerous Darien jungle route alone, at least 29,000 children made the crossing in 2021, followed by an estimated 40,000 last year, UNICEF said.

In just the first eight months of 2023, it said more than 60,000 children have made the trek, half of them under five – the highest number on record for a single year.

UNICEF said this trend is mirrored at the southern border of the United States, where authorities recorded over 83,000 children entering the country in the first seven months of fiscal year 2023, which runs from October the previous year to September.

In the years 2022 and 2021, UNICEF said over 155,000 and 149,000 children crossings were recorded, respectively.

According to UNICEF, the root causes of the crisis range from widespread poverty and job opportunities, to structural inequality, food insecurity and accelerating climate change.

UNICEF said disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, have further exacerbated internal displacement in the region and lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Migrant children also face grave physical risks, UNICEF said. In 2022, it said at least 92 migrant children died or went missing due to natural hazards, violence, exploitation and abuse.

UNICEF said the dangers are amplified by limited access to healthcare, nutrition and protection services, especially for the most vulnerable, including children with disabilities, children identifying as LGBTQI+ and those from indigenous groups.

The UN’s Children Fund said it is “actively working” with partners and governments along migration routes to provide accurate information, promote safe migration, and offer lifesaving assistance to children and families.

To address this unfolding crisis, the agency is appealing for US$160.5 million to meet the needs of refugees and migrant children in several Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Peru and Trinidad and Tobago.

It is also calling for US$142.3 million to support children and families on the migration route across Central America and Mexico in 2023.

However, as of August, both appeals are less than a quarter funded, said UNICEF also urging

member states to mobilize a better regional approach, invest in countries of origin, expand safe migration pathways, and strengthen child-sensitive border and reception processes.

“The unprecedented scale of the child migration crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean urgently requires a stronger humanitarian response, as well as the expansion of safe and regular migration pathways for children and families, to help protect their rights and their futures, no matter where they are from,” Conille said.