Interviews with El Salvador youth reveal what's behind drive to flee north

The answer lies in the gang violence that impacts so many communities where these children live, found one researcher, who conducted hundreds of interviews in the Central American nation.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Central American migrants wait atop the freight train they had been traveling north on, as it starts to rain after the train suffered a minor derailment outside Reforma de Pineda, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 20, 2014.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.

Researcher Elizabeth Kennedy has been conducting interviews in El Salvador to determine why so many children are leaving the country to try and get to the US. The answer lies in the gang violence which impacts so many communities where these children live. Her piece titled No Place for Childrren: Central America's Youth Exodus was published on the InsightCrime website.  Here is an excerpt:

What’s more, after meeting hundreds fleeing areas where their neighbors, family or friends have been threatened or killed, I am convinced the reasons lie in the violence. Among the first 322 interviews I did with Salvadoran child migrants conducted between January and May, the largest percentage (60.1 percent) of boys and girls list crime, gang threats or violence as a reason for their emigration. In the past two years, reports by KIND, UNHCR, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Women’s Refugee Commission have cited similar numbers from interviews with child migrants in the US. 

It stands to reason. Of the 322 minors I interviewed, 198 have at least one gang in their neighborhood. (Their neighborhood is the smallest structure they listed, i.e., their colonia, canton, caserio, lotificacion or barrio, depending on if they live in an urban or rural area.) Those who did not note a gang presence said they expect one to arrive soon. Another 130 said they attend a school with a nearby gang presence. One hundred attend a school with gangs inside; 109 have been pressured to join the gang, 22 of whom were assaulted after refusing. Seventy have quit school. More than 30 said they have made themselves prisoners in their own homes; they do not even go to church. The feeling is widespread. I interviewed minors from rural and urban areas of every province. 

The Salvadoran government has not provided an adequate response. Numerous people here say that the two child protection agencies in El Salvador – the National Council for Childhood and Adolescence (CONNA) and the Salvadoran Institute for Childhood and Adolescence (ISNA) – infrequently respond to reported abuse, parental homicide or underage pregnancy. Legislation passed in 2009 makes which agency is responsible for what unclear. Neither is adequately funded nor has programs for children persecuted by gangs or for children wanting out of gangs.

Read the rest of the article here.

 Tim Muth covers the news and politics of El Salvador on his blog.

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