The reality concerning girls and teenagers in the Central American region is one tainted with gender based violence, which often pushes them to flee their homes.

The sexual violence perpetrated by gangs is unfortunately increasing; several reports from different organisations indicate that many girls in the region have been raped by gang members and been subjected to constant sexual abuse. The way gang members often harass girls is by selecting them to become their ‘girlfriends’, this generally entails forced sexual intercourse, accompanied by threats of harm against them or their family members if they do not abide by their demands.

The sexual harassment by gang members has forced many girls to stop attending school, where gangs normally recruit. Girls who live in certain areas where the gangs dominate, live in constant fear of sexual violence; this, in many cases, results in dropping out of school and limiting their life and daily activities – so as to avoid threats or sexual attacks.

Seeking help from authorities is very risky for victims and witnesses, as gangs often punish those who report their activities with violence, threats or even death. In addition, victims who report sexual violence, face a number of obstacles in accessing justice, they are afraid of speaking out in their country of origin due to the extremely limited protection offered and slow judicial processes.

Child protection systems in the region do not protect or provide adequate care for children suffering from sexual violence. When girls refuse to become gang members’ ‘girlfriends’, they have nowhere to turn for protection because of a complete lack of programmes or services to support them. Often, the only option is to migrate.

Breaking dreams: sexual violence on the route

Sexual violence experienced by girls in the Central American region is believed to be one of the main reasons that forces them to flee. Nevertheless, the violence they escape from in their home countries does not end there. While on the move they are exposed to different forms of sexual violence, be it sexual harassment, rape, trafficking or coerced sexual relations, at the hands of criminal organisations, traffickers, other migrants and in some cases national authorities.

The sad reality is that even though more and more girls have started being aware of the risks involved in migrating, the torment they experience at home is so great that they undertake the route nonetheless. It has been reported that many girls have opted for birth control pills as a form of precaution for what they know is coming.

In Mexico for instance, according to reports, children and girls victims of sexual violence rarely report these crimes to the authorities because they fear being detained or deported. The reality is that they do not trust the authorities, and the violence they have been subjected to makes them fear even just talking about it.

This is an alarming situation that results in children and youth not being given the protection they need, mostly because of the governments’ lack of awareness and no meaningful access to international protection. What is more, children on the move are often deported – and  those who have been subjected to sexual violence do not receive the necessary support, adequate protection or assistance once they are returned.

This video by UNHCR traces the stories of six children from the Northern Triangle of Central America who fled violence in search of safety. 

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