Unaccompanied Children from Latin America On the Rise

27/04/2012 – Some of Latin America’s First Ladies attended a conference on migrant children, entitled “On Their Own,” at the Organization of American States.

The wives of some of Latin America’s most prominent figures have enlisted the help of Western governments in tackling child migration. This club of First Ladies from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico are asking the United States and perhaps others to stem the rising tide of unaccompanied children crossing their borders.

The Ladies’ plea was made after a two-day international conference on migrant children sponsored by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

The increases in the flow of unaccompanied children into the United States has actually prompted the country’s Air Force and Health and Human Services Department to turn a San Antonio air force base into a temporary shelter for 100 unaccompanied and undocumented minors until more appropriate shelter can be arranged.

Since the first quarter of last year, the number of unaccompanied children taken in by the authorities in the US has risen 77 per cent. Less than a fifth of the children are girls and two-thirds are from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, while only 12 per cent are Mexican.

Though they receive their basic physical and psychosocial needs while in care, nine-in-ten are eventually reunited with their families, as is in their best interests.

As per the international Inter-Agency Guiding Principles on Unaccompanied and Separated Children, child protection workers should make distinction between orphans and unaccompanied children.

It is not uncommon for children to become separated from their parents when displaced. “Because their status is seldom immediately clear, they are referred to as ‘separated’ or ‘unaccompanied children’ rather than orphans,” say the Inter-Agency Principles.

Guatemala’s Rosa Maria Leal de Perez, Honduras’ Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo and Mexico’s Margarita Zavala, have shed light on why now, more than before, the region's children are on the move. They say that most children are joining family members who have already migrated, fleeing domestic violence or avoiding gang activity. Other advocates of the children point towards political instability and human trafficking as dangers that prompt youths’ migration, too.

Mexican First Lady Margarita Zavala emphasized the importance of expanding educational and economic opportunities in the children’s countries of origin as well as educating potential migrant populations about the dangers and hardships of ‘illegal migration.’