A 60-year-old Venezuelan man was traveling with two children, ages four and five. They were not his children of him. They were from a Haitian woman he had met during the migratory journey in the dangerous jungle of Darién, in Panama. She handed them over because she didn’t have the strength to keep walking. In the humid tropical forest, the degree of desperation is so high that you release your children and hand them over to a stranger to be taken away in the middle of the jungle in order to save their lives. The story told by the BBC Mundo digital portal occurred at a health station in San Vicente.
Hundreds of children lose or are forced to move away from their fathers and mothers in the middle of the journey through the Darien jungle, which is considered the most dangerous migratory route, but which is still used every day by thousands of migrants on their way to North America.
According to statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 383 migrant children and adolescents arrived in the Darien province without a father or mother.
Statistics updated to July of this year (2022) report a 47% increase in cases of children and adolescents who complete the migratory journey unaccompanied or separated from the family group.
Diana Romero, Unicef emergency officer in Panama, explained that sometimes due to weather conditions, the flooding of rivers, parents are injured and have to delegate the care of small children to other adults, who are forced to advance on the journey. “They have to be separated from their children in order for them to survive,” she added.
In the statistics, another number stands out: that of children without names. The phenomenon has been called “statelessness”, which is a person who does not have a nationality, who does not have the recognition and protection of the laws of any State.
The phenomenon is practically new in the province of Darién. Last year (2021) a case came. So far this year (2022), as of July there are five cases.
Sometimes they are children whose parents have not been able to recognize them in their countries of origin. Others may be children born during the voyage.
In 2020, the births of 85 children were registered. In 2021 there were no reports, however, 530 pregnant women crossed the Panamanian rainforest. In 2022 there are still no reports of births or pregnant women.
The statistics also show the number of child survivors of sexual violence experienced during the migratory route, in the province of Darién. In 2021 there were reports of 38. In 2022 there are 20.
Migrant children run the risk of suffering from hunger and cold on their journey, of suffering from illnesses, of not having access to health services, of being exploited by organized crime and of being detained, in addition to other types of violence and discrimination by the population of the places through which they pass. All of these situations have serious consequences for your mental health and well-being.
The reports show the transit of 10,436 migrant children in a period of seven months. The figure represents 15% of the total migratory flow. 40% of the children who cross the Darién Gap are less than five years old. So far 70 nationalities are reported.
There are children who are forced to leave their homes due to conflict, poverty or climate change; others leave with their mothers and fathers in the hope of a better and safer life.
The journey is not easy for an adult, much less for a child. “To be honest, if I had known what the trip was like, I would not have done it,” said Sabina Anescar, who with luck managed to cross a mighty river with a baby on her back and another girl by the hand with the help of a friend.
But he suffered the exasperating experience of not finding his little girl in the first shelter. I found her in another. Both, mother and daughter, melt into a tender embrace. The girl lets out a disconsolate cry. An x-ray of the suffering of a child who experiences anxiety, the fear of losing a father or mother. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwCjd8j0FaE
“On the journey you can find areas where you have to climb mountains, where your feet can fail and you fall,” Anescar continued, in an attempt to recount the odyssey that is crossing the Darien jungle.