San Salvador, November 6, 2018. Cristosal, in partnership with various civil society organizations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, presents its latest report, “Children Without Truce: Victims of Forced Displacement by Widespread Violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.” The report analyzes data collected from 2016 to mid 2018 to better understand the ways that forced displacement affects children, adolescents, and young adults in the Northern Triangle of Central America. It was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as well as to the media and the general public in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
As the report shows, forced internal displacement by violence and migration are connected; when people don’t feel safe in their own countries, they’re forced to flee. For decades, Central Americans have exhausted legal institutions and legitimate options for revolution by peaceful means. Still today, instead of violent revolution, they are choosing migrant caravans as a means of protection and peaceful protest against the inability of their Governments to safeguard their lives and livelihoods. Of the 1,652 victims of violence and human rights abuses registered by Cristosal since 2014, 1,218 (72.8%) believed that fleeing the country was their best option for protection.
Gang-related violence is the main cause of internal forced displacement, but a distrust of the Police and Armed Forces means many families and individuals do not report violent crimes or displacement, pushing the problem further underground. Gangs were identified by victims as the aggressors in 94.6% of cases, but 7.3% of cases identified the police or Armed Forces as their aggressors. Many adolescents are subjected to harassment by police and security forces who suspect them of gang involvement based on the way they dress, or where they live or hang out. These factors contribute to a lack of trust in institutions that should be protecting citizens and addressing generalized violence.
The gaps in services and lack of protection provided to victims of forced displacement by the State exacerbate the already vulnerable condition of children, adolescents, and young adults. The report findings highlight the lack of inter-state mechanisms providing comprehensive and effective assistance and protection for children and adolescents affected by forced displacement that address the unique vulnerabilities of this population. Children are right-holders, whose right to education, play, protection, health and wellbeing, and to be with their family are all impacted by generalized violence.
Half of the minors registered in El Salvador by Cristosal and Educo dropped out of school due to forced internal displacement. Minors are affected when they have to attend schools in gang-controlled areas, or when they have to travel across gang lines and territories to get to school. Furthermore, as one of the report’s case studies shows, schools are often unable or unwilling to protect students facing threats from gangs.
Lastly, it is crucial that all three States officially recognize forced internal displacement and develop mechanisms to protect victims and address displacement. Currently, Honduras is the only country that officially recognizes forced internal displacement, but even they have not developed a comprehensive system to prevent forced displacement or protect victims of violence. In El Salvador, Cristosal has proposed a model law on internal displacement that pushes for the transformation from a security approach to a focus on protecting citizens. This is a historic opportunity for the country and the region to build a coordinated response to displacement and reduce irregular migration, which the US should support.
“For children, displacement doesn’t only mean leaving one house to live in another, it also has a significant emotional impact on age groups that are still developing their identity and forming the skills necessary to have an effective and functional adulthood.”
Cristosal El Salvador