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As tens of thousands of children from Central America flee to escape violence and poverty, World Vision continues its work in these countries to address the root causes of poverty and child exploitation.
The surge of unaccompanied children from Mexico and Central America flowing to the border and overwhelming detention centers and federal agents in Texas and Arizona is gaining attention as a humanitarian crisis.
“Many of these children are literally fleeing for their lives from constant threats of gang violence and high levels of poverty in their home countries,” says Jesse Eaves, World Vision’s senior policy adviser for child protection.
In a study World Vision released (.pdf) earlier this year, children in several Central American countries spoke about the gang violence and threats they face daily. In fact, the number of people seeking asylum in countries in the region has increased by 435 percent since 2009 (.pdf).
In World Vision’s own programming in El Salvador and Honduras, staff have been forced to scale back some programs and activities back because of the violence.
In Central America, World Vision has worked for more than four decades in its child sponsorship program areas to address root causes like poverty and the threat of exploitation that cause children to flee.
However, violence has continued to be a rising issue, forcing children to leave their home countries.
“We have heard unimaginable stories from many of the children we work with of friends being killed by gang violence or of they themselves being threatened if they do not join a gang,” says Amanda Rives, World Vision’s advocacy director for Latin America. “It’s these sorts of situations that leave children and families with few choices besides fleeing to surrounding countries or the United States.”
World Vision continues its work through child sponsorship on the community level to address the root causes of poverty — including disaster relief, access to clean water and sanitation, economic development opportunities, healthcare programs, and vocational and leadership training.
In Honduras, World Vision is leading the coordination with other organizations to provide support to the children who have been deported from the United States and will be arriving back in Honduras. We are working to provide sanitation kits to meet the needs of those returning.
Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and the country had to recently shut down its entire child welfare system due to abuse. World Vision is working with the government there as they form a new system.
In El Salvador, World Vision is specifically addressing gang violence with programs like urban and rural children’s clubs to give kids positive role models and a place to escape the violence.
Throughout Central America, World Vision works with low-income families to improve economic opportunities through family credits for family businesses, vocational training, and micro-entrepreneurial activities for young people.
In addition, child protection is a main focus and incorporated in all of World Vision’s work in Latin America, with groups of parents and community leaders who are being trained to spot child protection issues and advocate for reforms to benefit children on a local and national level.
In the United States, World Vision is working with the churches and community partners to assist children caught in the growing humanitarian crisis along the U.S. border.
Rives explains, “This is a complex issue, but one thing we do know: If we don’t address the root causes forcing children to flee in the first place, this will be a problem that only continues to grow.”