Launch of “Unaccompanied Footsteps": Campaign to raise awareness of the risks faced by unaccompanied refugee and migrant children and adolescents in Latin America
- The Regional Subgroup for the Protection of Children in Humanitarian Action launches "Unaccompanied Footsteps", a regional campaign to highlight the risks faced by thousands of children and adolescents who are forced to leave their homes in an unsafe manner across the region.
- Thousands of children and adolescents have been forced to flee their country due to violence, economic inequality, and other violations of their rights.
19 May 2022 - The refugee and migration crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean is impacting tens of thousands of children and adolescents who, by fleeing their countries without a responsible adult, become one of the most vulnerable groups exposed to threats and violations of their rights.
In the framework of the International Migration Review Forum (FEMI), the Regional Subgroup on Children's Protection in Humanitarian Action made up of 14 humanitarian and child protection organizations, launched the campaign: "Unaccompanied Footsteps", which seeks to raise awareness of the risks faced by children and adolescents who leave their country without a responsible adult.
The campaign has the objective of promoting changes to ensure the protection and fulfilment of the rights of unaccompanied children and to provide information to the refugee and migrant population about the protection services available in their journey and in the host countries. Also, to raise awareness among societies and decision-makers about the needs of these children.
In the absence of protection during the migration journey, children and adolescents face risks of sexual exploitation, including human trafficking. This has serious consequences for their mental and physical integrity. In addition, some children and adolescents who move to other countries unaccompanied or separated from their families face various adverse conditions in the lodgings or shelters where they are settled, and many do not receive medical care, encounter insecurity and discrimination for being from other countries and are exposed to psychological and physical abuse, violating their protection and rights.
The campaign emphasizes that the humanitarian response should prioritize working to reduce family separation, reunite children and adolescents with their families and provide them with quality care to ensure their protection and access to rights.
Human mobility from Central America and Mexico to the United States is one of the other major issues where thousands of children and adolescents have left their country without an adult, many of them in search of family reunification or for security reasons. In 2021, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that more than 160,000 children and adolescents from Mexico and three northern Central American countries arrived in the United States under these circumstances. The problem is still latent since, in the first two months of 2022, CBP reported that the number of children and adolescents reached 20,000.
In the case of South America, the situation is more complicated because the systems for identifying unaccompanied children have shown limitations in keeping an updated record of the real number of Venezuelan refugee and migrant children.
The Regional Subgroup for the Protection of Children in Humanitarian Action is integrated by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Aldeas Infantiles, the Inter-American Children's Institute (IIN), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Plan International, RET Americas, Save the Children, Unicef, World Vision, Help Desk in Spanish of the Global Child Protection Responsibility Area, HIAS, ECHO, UN Women and ICRC.
Humanitarian agencies and organizations play an important role in protecting children and adolescents in the context of unaccompanied or separated human mobility so that they receive care and protection in a timely, safe, adequate and accessible way according to their rights and best interests.
Victoria Ward, Regional Director for Save the Children in Latin America and the Caribbean, emphasizes: "It is necessary to raise awareness of the growing migration problems faced by children and adolescents in Latin America in order to promote changes that ensure their protection. With Pasos Sin Compañía, we hope to sensitize decision-makers to guarantee the rights of children who are crossing borders alone and those who are taken to detention centres with unfavourable conditions.”
Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean: "Many children and adolescents in a situation of mobility undertake their journey alone, fleeing poverty, in search of access to basic services or to reunite with their families. We must continue to join efforts to address the persistent risks for refugee and migrant children and adolescents, especially those travelling alone, and ensure their protection from the violence to which they may be exposed."
Joao Diniz, Regional Leader of World Vision Latin America and the Caribbean, states: "Latin America and the Caribbean is a corridor where millions of children and adolescents move, forced to migrate by poverty, hunger, insecurity and lack of opportunities in their countries. Millions do so with their parents, but millions undertake this dangerous journey alone and are more vulnerable to trafficking, abuse, and exploitation. Our presence in the most vulnerable communities seeks to ensure protection, but we urge the commitment of governments, civil society, businesses and individuals to prevent the scars of uprooting from reopening with wounds of abuse and exploitation."
Veronica Zambrano, Plan International's South America Sub-Regional Director: "Studies in the region have shown that, in the case of girls, once they are immersed in the migration dynamic, they are exposed to various forms of exploitation and abuse, such as human trafficking and sexual exploitation, early pregnancy and forced marriage or unions. On the other hand, children are used for forced or criminal labour. With this campaign, we want to make visible the dramatic situation experienced by migrant children who are unaccompanied or separated from their families, whose protection is also the responsibility of society and the State."
For Fabiola Flores, International Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of SOS Children's Villages: "Unaccompanied or separated refugee and migrant children and adolescents constitute a particularly vulnerable group, so it is relevant to continue promoting their safety, attention and care, through capacity building of protection system operators, authorities and key allies, in order to identify and prevent the main protection risks faced by this group, especially in the case of women, children and adolescents, such as use and forced recruitment, sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation or human trafficking."
For Victor Giorgi, director of the Inter-American Children's Institute of the OAS: "Massive migrations, especially those of children and adolescents unaccompanied by adults, are a clear symptom of the absence of states in their role as protectors and guarantors of rights. In addition to the absence of minimally dignified living conditions in the countries of origin, there are also weaknesses in the responses of transit and destination countries, which in many cases prioritize the functions of repression and control of a criminalized population over their obligations to promote and protect human rights, especially those of children and adolescents.”
Angela María Escobar, Director of Strategic and Technical Planning of RET's Americas Bureau, said: "With this campaign, we call on decision-makers to understand the circumstances that cause children and adolescents to be forcibly mobilized unaccompanied and separated from their families. An intervention and response are required in order to be treated with equality and respect and are provided with safe, relevant and user-friendly information so that they can access the asylum, protection and refugee system. Children and adolescents in unaccompanied human mobility have rights.”
Federico Agusti, UNHCR Representative, UN Refugee Agency, comments: "UNHCR's main concern is that unaccompanied children and adolescents receive protection. It is fundamental for us that refugee and migrant children are safe from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The human rights of children must always be considered a priority."
Join the campaign with the hashtag: #UnaccompaniedFootsteps
For more information, please contact:
María Gabriela Alvarado
LAC Regional Media Coordinator - Save the Children
External Engagement & Advocacy Director
World Vision América Latina y el Caribe
+506 8817 5727 | Mishelle_Mitchell@wvi.org
Alejandro López Spenher
Coordinador de Comunicaciones OIR LAAM – Aldeas Infantiles SOS
Coordinadora del Área de Comunicación e Información del Instituto Interamericano del Niño, la Niña y Adolescentes de la OEA
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