Increase in children traversing perilous Darién Gap jungle

Increase in children traversing perilous Darién Gap jungle

Over 30,000 children have ventured across the Darién Gap, a thick stretch of jungle between Panama and Colombia, within the first four months of this year.

Statistics from the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef, indicate a 40% rise in the number of minors undertaking this hazardous journey compared to last year.

The majority are aiming to reach the United States.

Migrants crossing the jungle frequently fall victim to robbery or extortion by criminal gangs, with many experiencing sexual abuse.

In December alone, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) documented 214 instances of sexual violence within the Darién jungle.

The international medical group reported that migrants described being detained by armed individuals who forced them to undress and then sexually assaulted them.

While MSF noted that the majority of sexual violence survivors were women, their teams have also treated men and children.

Unicef’s deputy executive director, Ted Chaiban, stated that numerous children have perished “on this grueling, dangerous journey.”

With no roads through the Darién Gap, the trek on foot can take about a week.

Unicef reported that 2,000 out of the more than 30,000 children who undertook the journey in the first four months of 2024 were unaccompanied.

“The Darién Gap is no place for children,” Mr. Chaiban emphasized.

Unicef has assisted migrant children by providing water, sanitation, hygiene, and health services, yet the organization stresses the need for more funds to meet their urgent needs.

The significant number of migrants passing through the Darién Gap has become a political issue in Panama. President-elect José Raúl Mulino, during his victory speech, pledged to “close” the route.

“This is not a transit route; this is our border,” Mr. Mulino declared, though he did not specify the measures he would take to block the path.