On the Run: Unaccompanied Children Fleeing Poverty and Violence

POST WRITTEN BY: Telecia Cumberbatch (J.D. ’15), Pace Law School

Oblivious to the dangers they face, unaccompanied migrant children travel great distances with little protection, guidance or resources, arriving in other nations with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Recently, there has been an unprecedented number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum globally. These fleeing children are primarily from the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported a 712% increase in asylum applications from the Northern Triangle of Central America and Mexico. The number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum has doubled each year, since 2008. It is estimated that more than 90,000 unaccompanied children will seek asylum in the United States this fiscal year.

The Northern Triangle is known for its rising violence, systemic government corruption and vast economic inequality. Children in these nations face a “join or die” gang mentality; they are targeted by police, who assume all children are gang affiliated; girls face gender based violence and rape is often utilized as a tool of control; they also face higher incidence of poverty due to economic instability and government corruption. A study conducted by UNHCR, indicates that 58% of the 404 children interviewed had a well-founded fear of persecution, due to the violence they faced or the threat of violence against them if they were to return. These findings show that a majority of the children need international protection due to their forced displacement. It is anticipated that the number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum will continue to grow, if international law or domestic laws do not adequately address this issue.

Either the Northern Triangle Nations lack the infrastructure of a police force, central government and judicial system to handle the increase in crime or they lack the ability to enforce the laws that are already in effect. These nations also face astounding poverty levels. The support of the international community could be beneficial in assisting in the restructuring of their economies. International refugee laws should be reformed to create uniformity; the international community needs to come to the aid of nations like those in the Northern Triangle, where grave human rights violations are occurring. Addressing the core issues in each nation increases the probability that a long-term solution will take effect.

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