June 7, 2017 – Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is pervasive in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and with no protection against this violence in their home countries, many children, especially girls and LGBTI children, migrate to seek protection. These are among the findings in a report released today by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and Human Rights Center Fray Matias de Córdova, Childhood Cut Short: Sexual and Gender-based Violence against Central American Migrant and Refugee Children. The report finds that the most common forms of SGBV against children include SGBV by gangs, sexual abuse in the family, and intimate partner violence. Children are also targeted for human trafficking and sexual exploitation. In addition, the report finds that families rarely report SGBV against children because they know their governments are unlikely to provide protection. Victims who do report SGBV face numerous obstacles by police, prosecutors, and judges, and cases often result in impunity for the perpetrator and lack of protection for the victim.
“Children, and especially girls, from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are fleeing rape, domestic violence, sexual servitude, and human trafficking. These children need protection and justice,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “With this report, we hope to not only educate and spread awareness of this pervasive and insidious violence and the need for protection for child victims, but also to provide practical recommendations for these countries on how they can combat this global problem.”
Victims face countless hurdles in reporting SGBV-related crimes. When children disclose violence to a family member or other adult, they are frequently blamed for what happened to them, discouraged from reporting the abuse to the authorities, and forced to continue to live with or to have contact with the abuser. They also face a number of barriers when seeking justice, including a lack of accessibility of judicial institutions, discrimination and re-victimization by officials, and ineffective investigations and prosecutions. In the cases of SGBV perpetrated by gangs, children and their families are especially unlikely to report crimes due to fear of violent reprisal by gangs.
In addition, child protection systems in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are severely underfunded, and lack capacity to provide necessary services to child survivors of SGBV, including protection from ongoing violence as well as adequate shelter, psychological support, and social and economic assistance. Child protection systems provide little or no protection for children targeted by gangs.
Migrant and refugee children suffer further sexual and gender-based violence when migrating through or seeking protection in Mexico, the report finds. Children are coerced into sexual relations in exchange for food or shelter, human trafficked, and raped or sexually abused by smugglers, Mexican officials, or other migrants.
The report also finds that migrant and refugee children have little access to protection in Mexico. Most children are deterred from applying for asylum in Mexico because they have little access to information or legal representation to make them aware of their rights, and because they would have to remain in detention for the duration of the process. Those few who do seek refugee status in Mexico face a system that, while improving, does not yet have the capacity to adequately adjudicate their cases. As a result, many children are returned to the situations of violence that they fled.
Click here for a recent KIND report, “Neither Security nor Justice,” that analyzes gang violence and SGBV in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with the authors, please contact Megan McKenna, email@example.com, 202-631-9990.