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Children at Risk

Join gangs or leave their countries: minors aren't left with many choices in some regions of Latin America
File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
31/07/2017
09:00
Mexico City
Newspaper Leader by EL UNIVERSAL
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One of the most shocking images in recent years was the photograph of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan, washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach in the Mediterranean Sea. This child lost his life when the boat he and his family were traveling in, capsized. They were fleeing their country in hopes of finding a better future.

Stories like this seem distant to many of us on this side of the world, yet our reality proves similar situations happen in Mexico and neighboring countries. We're not at war – or at least not as such – but there is violence caused by gangs and criminal organizations.

This Monday, EL UNIVERSAL begins its publication series on the Immigrant Children of the Southern War (Los niños migrantes de la guerra sur). The situation of insecurity in the countries of the so-called Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) has increased the arrival of minors in Mexico. Thousands of them travel alone, without papers, which is why 99% of them is sent back to their countries of origin. From 2010 up to date, the National Institute of Migration (INM, in Spanish) has records of 66 thousand minors who entered the country unaccompanied by any relative. In 2013, there were 5 thousand 562; while in 2015 the number increased to 20 thousand 347; in 2016 there was a slight decrease, with just 17 thousand 530 recorded cases.

Very few seek refuge in Mexico; nevertheless, the number has increased by a 350% in three years: 65 Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan children applied for refugee status in 2013, but in 2015 the number rose to 229.

The stories of the teens and young adults applying for refuge are similar. They lived in communities where they were forced to join gangs and commit several crimes, including murder. In their tales, the children acknowledge they had no options; they either left their country or “fell into the clutches of criminal groups.”

The moment the government of a nation neglects their minor population, they risk the viability of their own country. If minors lack education, a stable social environment and are in poor health, a considerable portion of society becomes cannon fodder for the gangs, disrupting the future of families and communities.

Children in Mexico aren't in the best conditions either, when talking about violence. Minors here also face the threat of criminal organizations in certain areas, but it's not the only peril. Exploitation, trafficking, and abuse are all situations which place our children at risk. This week, Mexico will present several courses of action, in partnership with the UN, to stop the violence in our country.

Regarding childhood protection, international organizations have a key role to play. Their actions are urgent in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. We're still on time to avoid further tragedies.

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