Since 2011, the number of unaccompanied Central American children arriving in the United States and Mexico has increased dramatically. The number of unaccompanied children apprehended in the United States increased 272 percent from 2011 to 2016, and the number of unaccompanied children deported from Mexico increased 446 percent during the same period.
This trend has been accompanied by a significant increase in the number of girls migrating alone. The percentage of unaccompanied girls in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody rose from 23 percent in 2012 to 34 percent of all unaccompanied children in 2014, and has remained at around 33 percent through the 2016 fiscal year. The percentage of Central American migrant girls deported from Mexico rose from 17 percent to 25 percent during the same period. Girls make up a significantly higher percentage of younger Central American unaccompanied migrant and refugee children—since 2013 over 40 percent of unaccompanied children ages 0-11 deported from Mexico have been girls.
A growing body of research indicates that many of these children are forced from their homes due to violence. However, less is known about the specific role of sexual and gender-based violence in driving child migration from Central America. With funding from the Oak Foundation, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), in partnership with the Human Rights Center Fray Matías de Córdova (CDH Fray Matías) undertook a study of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and migration of unaccompanied Central American children. To better understand the relationship between violence and child migration from this region, this study documents the occurrence and forms of sexual and gender-based violence that children face in their countries of origin and during migration, as well as access to justice and protection for child survivors of SGBV in these countries. This study draws on the cases of 96 Central American migrant children, including those gathered through interviews conducted by KIND and CDH Fray Matías, and analysis of key documentation from KIND client case files, as well as 78 interviews with government and civil society representatives in the region. Analysis of children’s cases provides insight into the forms of violence that children face, as well as the ways in which these experiences of violence shape their decision to migrate. Interviews with government and civil society experts and analysis of secondary sources provide information on violence in Central America and Mexico, access to justice and protection, and child migration trends in the region.