Addressing the Root Causes of Migration from Central America

Save the Children has worked in Latin America for many years, addressing the root causes that force children to flee their homes. We support safe and legal alternatives to the dangerous journey many are attempting to get to the U.S.

Violence in one’s home country can cause a family to flee and seek asylum in the United States. Children who experience or witness violence, and live in a constant state of fear, can suffer deep emotional trauma and lifelong disabilities.[i]

The events at the U.S.-Mexico border stem from a crisis impacting 6.3 million children from Latin America and the Caribbean — mainly in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico — who face life-threatening situations and multiple forms of violence.

Since 2014, increasing numbers of families and unaccompanied children from these countries have attempted the dangerous journey to the U.S., forced to flee violence, gangs and poverty. Save the Children has worked in Latin America for many years, addressing the root causes that force children to flee their homes. We support safe and legal alternatives to the dangerous journey many are attempting to get to the U.S.

In response to this crisis, Save the Children announced it will strengthen our ongoing programs to address the root causes of migration.

Since the 1980s, Save the Children has worked to protect children so they are safe in their home communities. Each year, Save the Children reaches 2.8 million children with protection, health and education programs in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. We provide early and primary education as well as violence prevention and peacebuilding programs in communities most affected by violence. We believe scaling up these programs is one of the most effective ways to protect children in the region and reduce the steady flow of asylum seekers to the U.S.-Mexico border. Here is the story of one such child.

At 16, Estrella* is a local youth leader involved in a Save the Children-supported, peace-building workshop in the nearby school in Las Conchas. However, it wasn’t long ago that Estrella* could have imagined a different life for herself.

Estrella* grew up in Guatemala in a city where the threat of gang violence paralyzed the community. Her parents struggled with substance abuse and her education was, unfortunately but not surprisingly, deprioritized.

“…My father was head of a gang when I was younger. We were forced to flee following an internal power struggle with threats and extortion. And that’s why we moved here, 90 minutes from the city.

Our family felt frustrated with life here. My father became abusive. He stopped going to church and my mother started to drink a lot.

My grandmother, who raised me, is gone. She taught me self-respect, discipline and compassion. Until her death last year, she was everything to me.”

“Just before (her death), she gave me permission to use all her clothes to make clothing and costumes. The other girls in school teased me, and my parents were too busy for me, but she always took the time to tell me that I was beautiful, intelligent and that I could be anything that I wanted to be.”

“She would have loved this green dress. It was her favorite color.

Thanks to programs like Save the Children’s “Schools of Peace” which are created to interrupt the cycle of gang violence throughout Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, Estrella* found her way back to a learning environment.

She has learned to develop various creative outlets and is excelling at school. She is a local young leader involved in a Save the Children-supported, peace-building workshop in her school close to Las Canoas.

Save the Children has a strong presence and longstanding child- and youth-focused programs in the countries of origin for the majority of migrating children, adolescents and families, and in Mexico, which is both a source and transit country. We have used our presence and expertise to launch humanitarian programs to protect children, address the needs of children returning from the U.S. and reduce violence.

We seek to prevent dangerous and forced migration through activities such as awareness campaigns on the risks and rights associated with migration and programs related to youth empowerment, jobs training and family livelihoods.

“…Every item here has a story behind it. Whenever I’m upset, or need to clear my mind I come back to this book: I’m transported somewhere else.

For years, a complex crisis of violence and poverty has forced large numbers of families and unaccompanied children to flee from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala for safety and protection in the U.S. The journey is unthinkably dangerous, and for many families, it is a desperate attempt to help keep their children safe.

For children like Estrella* who have benefited from Save the Children’s continued presence in Guatemala, there is hope for the future. However, the voices of vulnerable children in the U.S. and Central America must also be heard.

Learn more about how Save the Children is working to help protect children, uphold their rights and meet their critical immediate needs in collaboration with trusted agencies.