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Children on the Run: Unaccompanied children leaving Central America and Mexico and the need for international protection

With a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, UNHCR Washington undertook an extensive study to examine the reasons why children are displaced from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The study conducted over 400 interviews with the intention of answering two questions:

  • Why are these children leaving their countries of origin?
  • Are any of these children in need of international protection?

The data from this study reveals that 58% of those interviewed were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection. Two common sources of harm that the interviewees cited were: violence by organized armed criminal actors and violence in the home (abuse from a caretaker). The children from Mexico cited a third concern: recruitment into and exploitation by the criminal element for human smuggling, i.e. facilitating others in crossing the US border illegally.

The UNHCR founds these to be serious indicators of harm to children and thus requiring a full review of international protection needs to ensure that unaccompanied or separated children are not returned to situations of harm or danger.  

Published 2014-07-21

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