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Last month (June 2017), the desperate situation of people forced to flee their homes in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala was brought home by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as one of the main challenges the region faces.

The report found that 182,400 people fled this area – known as the Northern Triangle of Central America – in 2016. An alarming number of these people are children, with 16,000 unaccompanied minors being detained in Mexico last year – over half of them after reaching the border with the United States in search of international protection.

People are being forced out of their homes due to widespread violence throughout the region. Children and young people are especially targeted and forced into local gangs, known as ‘maras’.

Youngsters approached or forced to join gangs are in a vulnerable situation. They sometimes have no other choice but to run away, often alone, in search of a safe place – after gangs threaten to kill them or their family members, or use extortion, physical or psychological violence against them.

As part of the Destination Unknown Campaign, terre des hommes Schweiz and terre des hommes Germany are working with local partners in Central America to support children on the move throughout the region.

Children and adolescents looking for safety and security outside their home country face challenging journeys along dangerous routes, putting their lives and dignity at risk. Research has shown that the conditions these children face while travelling are often no less dangerous than those they fled from in the first place.

Countries along those migration routes have chronically failed to protect the rights of children travelling along them. Not being able to access healthcare, education and other public services is a major challenge for these kids – not to mention a lack of legal protection. They are also exposed to stigmatisation and discrimination as the states they travel through do not recognise them as refugees.

Following the Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Global Conference on Children on the Move, the need to increase global efforts to defend the rights of children on the move is obvious. These efforts must pay specific attention to the plight of children in Central America, where concentrated action is urgently needed.

Only this will make sure vulnerable children travelling through Central America are supported, protected from gangs and other dangerous influences and given every opportunity to find a safe and stable environment in which to thrive.

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