[VIDEO RECAP] KIND’s Trip to Honduras

August 28, 2019

KIND Senior Director of Migration and Gender Initiatives Rachel Dodson debriefs our visit to Honduras, and the conditions contributing to the refugee crisis in the Northern Triangle. Watch the livestream above or read the transcript below.

Why did KIND go to Honduras?

  • We traveled to the Honduras to learn more about the violence affecting children and youth.
  • We went to the cities of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and El Progreso, 3 of the cities with the highest levels of violence in the country.
  • We met with over 80 people including youth, families, teachers and representatives of non-governmental organizations living and working in areas affected by violence to hear about their first-hand experiences and perspectives on the forms of violence affecting children and youth in Honduras.

What are the key findings from your trip?

  • We documented widespread violence against children and youth— in the home and family, by gangs and other organized criminal groups, and by state actors such as police. We found that sexual and gender-based violence against children and youth is widespread, as is forced recruitment and extortion by gangs.
  • Many children and youth in Honduras live in areas dominated by gangs and other organized criminal groups such as narcotrafficking cartels. We met with families and youth who live in these neighborhoods and teachers who teach in them, and many of them shared that their family had received threats or a family member had been murdered.
  • Children and youth who live in gang dominated areas also reported being afraid to leave their homes. One of the major and very worrisome impacts of gang violence is that many children are not able to go to school—young people and teachers reported that gangs control schools and target kids on the way to and from school, so kids are forced to leave school and are losing the opportunity to access education.
  • We also heard reports of widespread sexual and gender-based violence. Girls and young women who live in gang-dominated neighborhoods live in fear of gangs, which use sexual violence to exert control over the neighborhoods where they operate and to punish individuals and families who do something to offend the gang, for example those who are unable to pay extortion fees. We spoke to the family of a teenage girl who was kidnapped and raped by gang members. She fled the country because she knew that if she stayed she would be targeted again.
  • Youth are also targeted for repression and violence by state forces, including police and military police. Young people from marginalized neighborhoods are frequently harassed and in some cases subject to violence by police just because of where they live. There are also widespread protests in Honduras right now calling for the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez and rejecting the privatization of education and health care. Children and youth are actively involved in these protests and have been subject to extreme repression by the police. In June a 17-year-old boy was shot and killed by military police who fired into a crowd of protesters. On our visit to Honduras we spoke to a student leader who had been shot at by police and other youth who had been arbitrarily arrested and detained for participating in protests.
  • We found that children and youth affected by violence do not receive protection or meaningful assistance from the Honduran government.
  • Many families are forced to locate internally within Honduras to escape violence, for example when a gang gives a family 24 hours to leave the neighborhood or they will be harmed the family picks up and leaves with only the possession they can carry. But these families commonly face continued violence by gangs or other violent actors after relocating. This leaves children, youth, and families with no choice but to flee Honduras to find safety.

Where can children go for help/protection? Nowhere.

  • KIND heard from multiple government and civil society sources that DINAF, the Honduran child protection agency, provides no meaningful protection to children who have experienced or are threatened with violence. KIND heard numerous examples of NGOs contacting DINAF to inform them about a child at serious risk and to ask them to take the child into protective custody and not receiving an adequate response from DINAF. In some cases they were unable to reach the agency by phone, and in others DINAF said they did not have a vehicle, money for gas, or personnel to go into the child’s community and investigate the situation. This reflects both the severe lack of resources and personnel within DINAF as well as the hesitance of personnel to go into dangerous neighborhoods to provide protection to children who live there.
  • The Public Ministry (MP), the Honduran agency charged with prosecuting crimes, has a witness protection program, but families who do provide testimonies do not receive the promised assistance. Those who are relocated are placed in hotels with extremely poor conditions. The family is not able to leave and the children do not go to school or receive psychological assistance. Once a conviction is reached, or in some cases after a family has given their declaration, they stop receiving assistance from the program. This is especially concerning because it is when a conviction is reached that the family is often at greatest risk of retaliation by the perpetrator or his family. The extremely limited resources allocated to witness protection are dedicated to high profile cases related to gangs and narcotrafficking, and attorneys told us that they are not aware of any cases in which survivors of sexual and gender-based violence received protection under the program, despite the fact that they are often at great risk for retaliation.
  • Children and families who live in gang dominated neighborhoods have an even harder time getting protection when they are victims of violence. Gangs prohibit people living in their territories from communicating with police and other authorities, and in some cases the police are actually in collusion with the gang. We heard the story of a young woman who went to the police to report physical and sexual violence by her father. She was then asked by gang members why she had gone to the police and she denied it. They showed her photos on their cell phones that the police had sent them of her at the police station. The gang gave her 24 hours to leave the neighborhood or she and her family would be harmed. In this context, people really have nowhere to turn for help.

How does this violence impact children?

  • The continual exposure to extreme violence has a profound impact on the psychological impact of children and youth. According to the teachers, psychologists, and youth workers we spoke to in Honduras, it leads to fear, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. It also impacts children’s abilities to learn and can lead to both academic and behavioral challenges in schools.
  • Many young people feel that they are trapped in their homes with no opportunity to relax, have fun, and connect with other youth. According to a school director in El Progreso “Our freedom is gone. There is no communication between neighbors because no one knows if the neighbor is a gang member. Young people want space to have fun but there is no such space.”
  • The teachers and psychologists we spoke with insisted that with appropriate therapeutic intervention and support from trusted adults children and youth can heal from the psychological impacts of exposure to violence and go on to thrive. However, there are no government programs in place to provide support to children affected by violence, and those NGOs that do offer psychological services have capacity that is far from adequate to meet the need.

What are some solutions/projects that work?

  • KIND is working to prevent SGBV through our Gender and Migration Initiative. We work with local partners in Honduras and Guatemala to engage youth, parents, and teachers in violence prevention programming, including workshops for youth on gender equity and health relationships, training for teachers on sexual abuse prevention, and leadership and empowerment programing for girls. We are going to post a link to more information on that that programming in the chat. https://supportkind.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/GMI-Fact-Sheet-2019-3.pdf).
  • In Honduras we also met with the staff of civil society organizations that are doing amazing violence prevention work, including family counselors who meet with youth and their families to make sure that youth are getting the support they need at home to avoid getting involved in gangs. We also met with attorneys and psychologists who provide support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence to and accompany their cases through the judicial process to ensure they get the protection they need and that their cases don’t end in impunity. These are example of the great work that is being done on a small scale and that needs more support in order to be able to make a bigger difference at the national level in Honduras.
  • It is also essential to ensure that when children who have experienced violence do arrive in the United States seeking protection that they have access to due process with the US immigration system. This is why KIND provides no-cost legal representation to unaccompanied migrant children in the US so that they don’t have to go to immigration court alone.

What can you do to help?