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Numbers of unaccompanied minors at U.S. border will continue to rise without stronger child protection systems, warns World Vision

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Laura Blank

International News Director
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tegucigalpa, HONDURAS (June 13, 2014)  With thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing to U.S. borders, there is an escalating humanitarian crisis that stretches from the U.S. down to Central America. The UN expects another 10,000 children to attempt crossing into the United States without their parents by the end of September, and these numbers will only continue to rise unless country governments strengthen their child protection systems, warns World Vision.

Last week, the government of Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, unexpectedly closed its child protection agency due to extreme dysfunction and irregularities; thus removing a critical component of the social safety net for vulnerable children.

“The extreme levels of violence children endure in their own country is unimaginable. In Honduras, World Vision assisted in the investigation of dysfunctional child protection centers, and witnessed firsthand serious cases of child abuse,” said Amanda Rives, World Vision advocacy director in Latin America. “It’s no wonder more and more children are running to the U.S. They are desperately seeking protection as security situations continue to deteriorate in their communities and they experience violence within the very institutions charged with their well-being.”

The Honduran government is planning to implement an entire new child protection system. Having served in the region over 40 years, World Vision is working with the government to ensure that the new institution will comply with international standards and guarantee the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized children, especially those driven to flee the country.

“The humanitarian crisis must be acted upon not just at the U.S. border, but also in the countries where these children are escaping from. The only way to stop these children from running to the U.S. is to address the root causes and establish effective child protection systems,” said Rives.

Unaccompanied child migration is influenced by complex economic and social factors. Many bear witness and are subjected to violence in their communities and homes, while facing the inexorable conditions of poverty and inequality. Violence is prevalent throughout all aspects of children’s lives, increasing their risk of being trafficked or fleeing their homes alone. In addition to violent environments, limited opportunities and family separation due to immigration are regional trends that pull children to migrate to the U.S.

In a recent study of child protection issues in Latin America (PDF), World Vision heard from communities, including children, adolescents, and youth themselves, about the unprecedented rates of violence, deteriorating opportunities and child abandonment. Children who flee, as well as those left behind, suffer devastating consequences to their health, development, and well-being.

“As advocates and leaders for child protection in the region, World Vision continues to take a stance against all forms of violence against children, and we call on the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to address these structural factors and ensure adequate support, care, protection, education and life-skills opportunities that children so desperately need,” said Rives. “Given the international nature of this issue, we also call on the United States government, as well as regional and international authorities, to work in close collaboration and coordination for the children’s protection.” 

World Vision also is working with the U.S. government and partner organizations to address the issue of children not having access to humanitarian assistance once they are detained in the United States.

“These children are coming to our borders in hopes of finding relief from desperate situations, only to find another desperate situation,” said Romanita Hairston, World Vision vice president of US programs. “We stand ready with our partners to support them, if allowed, until such time as they go home. We hope that they can return to a safer, stronger and more caring environment.”

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