Children are migrating in record numbers across Latin America and the Caribbean, driven by gang violence, poverty, instability and climate change, the United Nations reported on Wednesday.
In the first seven months of 2023, more than 60,000 children crossed the Darien Gap, a major migration route and dangerous stretch of jungle that connects South and Central America, more than any other year on record , said the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Younger children are making these dangerous journeys at an increasing rate, UNICEF added, with children under the age of 11 now accounting for up to 91 percent of all children using the region’s major transit points.
“More and more children are on the move, younger and younger, often alone and from various countries of origin, particularly from as far away as Africa and Asia,” said Garry Conille, director of UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“As they cross several countries and sometimes the entire region, illness and injury, family separation and abuse can disrupt their journey and, even if they reach their destination, their future often remains in jeopardy. »
Globally, children make up about 13 percent of the migrant population, but they make up 25 percent of people on the move in Latin America and the Caribbean – the highest proportion in the world.
“The unprecedented scale of the child migration crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean urgently requires a stronger humanitarian response as well as the expansion of safe and regular migration pathways for children and families to support them. to protect their rights and their future, wherever they are. of,” Conille said.
“Even if the children make it to their destination, their future is often threatened. »
The hike through the Darien Gap, a remote, roadless stretch of mountainous rainforest connecting South and Central America, is one of the most popular and perilous hikes in the world.
The 106 kilometer trek brings migrants from Colombia to Panama and is a crucial passage for those hoping to reach the United States and Canada.
Nearly 250,000 people crossed the border in 2022, fueled by economic and humanitarian disasters, nearly double the previous year’s figures and 20 times the annual average from 2010 to 2020.
The unprecedented movement of people in the Western Hemisphere has put immense pressure on the Biden administration which, despite implementing a series of measures to stem migration, still faces the potential arrival of thousands more people at the southern border of the United States this fall, which poses a political problem. a sensitive issue in the forefront in the run-up to a presidential election.
Border agents are already seeing an increasing number of daily encounters at the border compared to the start of the summer. In July, the number of families apprehended at the border — one of the most vulnerable populations — nearly doubled from June, raising concerns within the Biden administration.