Increase in migrant children crossing the dangerous Darién Gap: UNICEF

In the first four months of 2024, more than 30,000 children passed through the jungle area separating Colombia and Panama, marking a significant increase compared to the same period last year. Of those, about 2,000 were unaccompanied or separated from their families.

In addition, the number of children in transit is increasing five times faster than the number of adults. data shows.

There is no room for children

Darién Gap is not a place for children. Many children died on this arduous and dangerous journey. Women gave birth along the way, bringing new life to the world in the most difficult of circumstances. Many who survived the journey were sick, hungry and dehydrated, often suffering from wounds or infections and in dire need of assistance,” said Ted Chaiban. UNICEF Deputy CEO.

But with children making up a fifth of migrants, UNICEF’s presence and response are more important than ever, he stressed.

“Adequate funding is vital to enable us to be there for children, no matter what country they come from.”

Based on current trends, it is estimated that 800,000 people, including 160,000 children and adolescents, could cross the forest by 2024. These migrants will likely need significant humanitarian assistance due to the harsh conditions faced throughout the journey.

Heartbreaking stories

Returning from a visit to the Bajo Chiquito community in Panama, Mr. Chaiban recounted the harrowing stories he heard from the children who took part in the journey.

“I met Esmeria, an 11-year-old girl from Venezuela. [was] separated from her mother while walking through the jungle. In tears, Esmeria shared with me how difficult it was for her to be alone in the forest,”

She had to cross swollen rivers, passing injured and hungry people along the way.

“At night, she told me it was very dark and she heard scary noises. Esmeria is hungry. She hadn’t eaten anything in two days. Esmeria hasn’t studied in months and she hopes her mother will come soon to follow in their footsteps. No child should have to experience or witness these things”, the UNICEF official added.

Help children move

UNICEF has been supporting child mobility in Darién and Panama since 2018, when just 522 children crossed the rainforest.

Today, with financial support from donors and with its own funds, the United Nations agency provides vital services in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), child protection, health and gender-based violence, at key points along migration pathways.

They also support the communities where migrants pass through.

Capital needed

In 2024, UNICEF appealed for $7.64 million to address the urgent needs of the growing number of migrant children and families in Panama. However, so far only 10% of this funding has been received.

Praising the host community, donors and the Government of Panama for helping support children and their families, Mr. Chaiban called for more funding.

The dangers to children and their unmet needs are increasing as we speak. We need to continue to ensure that no child is left behind. If the response is not adequately funded, the reach will be limited,” he emphasized.


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