Why so many child refugees on the border?

I try to imagine myself at age 13 or 14, leaving home by myself, jumping on freight cars for thousands of miles, and entering a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, as thousands of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are doing.

I try to imagine the desperate situation that would make my parents think that this was the best option.

ixtepec-224x300

Child migrants, Ixtpec, Mexico (photo CIPA Americas program)

Why then would they do it?  Why would their parents tolerate it?  One reason is that these three countries have become hellholes of violent crime and that they are at greater risk if they stay where they are.   The other is a U.S. law, which will be the subject of another post.

Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate.  Reporters who’ve interviewed Honduran families tell of young girls who fear being raped and becoming sex slaves of criminal gangs, of boys who fear being murdered if they don’t join the gangs.

Sonia Nazario, author of a book, Enrique’s Journey, about Honduran child refugees, described the situation in an interview with National Public Radio.

The people [drug cartels] are targeting as their foot soldiers are children. Christian [an 11-year-old Honduran boy] told me about going to school, his elementary school, and how the narcos were pressuring him to use marijuana and crack at 11 years old.

And then they threatened to beat him up if he didn’t use that and work with them.  And he knew what was coming next.  These children are recruited to work as lookouts, to rob people, to extort people, and then, ultimately, to become hit men for the narcos.

In many schools, the teachers have to pay a war tax to be able to teach.  Students have to pay rent to be able to go to school.  In this elementary school — Christian’s elementary school — a 12-year-old would show up, who is part of the narco-cartels, and he would say, “I want these three 10-year-olds to help me distribute crack today.”

And the teacher who questioned him had a pistol put to her head.  So, in many of these schools, they are controlled de facto by the narco-cartels.”

via What Honduran Children Are Fleeing | Here & Now.

Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the world’s top five countries in homicide rates.

I think that one reason for this is that Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have been ruled by dictatorships that have waged war against their own people, supported by the CIA and the U.S. military in the name of fighting Communism.

I think the result of all this violence has been the destruction of the structure of society and the elimination of all sources of authority except men with guns—the military and the drug lords.   Or so it seems to me, based on admittedly limited reading.

Nicaragua, under the pro-Communist Sandinista regime and its successors, managed to avoid this.  Nicaragua’s murder rate is less than 1/10th that of Honduras and about 1/3 that of Mexico. But I admit that it’s complicated, and there is no single reason that explains everything.

Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are battlefields of the drug war, but, sadly, ending the drug war won’t make the narco gangs go away, any more than ending alcohol prohibition in the United States made organized crime go away in this country.  I don’t have a good answer to any of this.   All I know is that teenage Central American boys and girls are not to blame for the world they find themselves in.

 LINKS

All They Will Call You Will Be Detainees by Steve Rendell for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey for the link.

‘Flee or die’: violence drives Central Ameria’s child migrants to US border by Jo for The Guardian.

What Honduran Children Are Fleeing, an inteview with Sonia Nazario by NPR in Boston.

Debunking 8 Myths About Why Central American Children Are Migrating by David Bacon for In These Times [Added 7/22/14]

What Corporate Media and Corporate Latino Politicians Won’t Tell You About Central American Child Refugees by Bruce A. Dixon, managing editor of Black Agenda Report.

§§§

Intentional homicide rates per 100,000 people by country in 2012

Top 10

Honduras, 90.4

Venezuela, 53.7

Belize, 44.7

El Salvador, 41.2

Guatemala, 39.9

Jamaica, 39.3

Swaziland, 33.8

Saint Kitts and Nevis, 33.6

South Africa, 31.0

Colombia, 30.8

Some others

Mexico, 21.5

Nicaragua, 11.3

Costa Rica, 8.5

United States, 4.8

Canada, 1.6

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

[7/22/14]  I expanded this post after publishing it yesterday.

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