The cost of pursuing freedom MUCH HIGHER and DANGEROUS for women.

So far this year, some 130,000 people have crossed the Darién jungle, of which 104,000 are adults, and of this figure around 35% are women.

Migration has long ceased to be a man’s thing. Women alone, with children or with their partners leave their homes behind, having to go through a “hell” like the Darién jungle, where they are victims of rape or robberies while carrying their children: “come on, it won’t be long now.”

At the Bajo Chiquito checkpoint, the first indigenous town where migrants arrive after crossing the Darién jungle, the natural border between Panama and Colombia, the Panamanian authorities take the data of the hundreds of new arrivals who, exhausted, wait patients their turn. Behind the officials, secluded, sits a girl. Suddenly, it seems that she has identified someone in her queue.

“Do you know this girl?” the officer says to a woman. “Is she 12 years old?” she replies. They ask the girl and she nods. The officer then asks him if he knows where her mother is. “Yes, she comes further back.”

Venezuelan Karely Salazar, 31, travels with her daughters aged 7, 10 and 12. They have gone to the town clinic. The older girl smiles, protective of one of her sisters. The mother holds the other in her arms. “Right now I have this little one with a fever, with a cold fever, who has been in the river for two days,” the exhausted woman explains to EFE. “Their father is in Venezuela,” she clarifies, without giving details.

“Thank God we crossed the jungle, but it really wasn’t easy, very difficult for the children,” he says. Children have to be carried up on stones, if you slip they can fall into the void, into the river, “and they are hungry, and they are cold”, and they can overtake you or be left behind.

“Is your eldest daughter lost?” “Yes,” the mother nods, and her face changes. She says that on the second day of the walk she felt very bad in one leg, she couldn’t move, and the little girl walked among the people and she “lost her way.”

“I didn’t sleep last night, because the girl went ahead of me and reached a part of the river that had to be stopped and she woke up there and I woke up still inside the jungle. Last night I was crying and she was crying because she didn’t know where she was,” says her mother.

She tries to explain herself, to make it understood: “I came alone and with three girls, imagine, pull here, pay attention to this one, be careful that you fall, but no, the jungle is really not recommended, really not.”

Hundreds of migrants pass through that jungle every day, or thousands, when the flow is highest.

According to data from the Panamanian authorities, after the historical record of more than 520,000 migrants who crossed Darién in 2023, so far this year more than 130,000 have already done so, of them about 104,000 adults, of which around 35% are women. And among the more than 28,600 minors, 47% are girls.

The Panamanian authorities generally maintain a harsh discourse against migration, remembering that on the Colombian side control is held by the criminal group of the Clan del Golfo, which in 2023 received about $68 million for the passage of migrants, in addition to there being other gangs that They rob and attack those who pass by.

The director of Immigration of Panama, Samira Gozaine, goes further: “There are stories from people who say that mothers put their children to drown in the river because it is difficult to carry them, when (…) the hills become very dense. and they cannot continue, they simply abandon them to their fate,” he assured EFE a year ago.

For international lawyer and human rights activist Iván Chanis, this type of speech “dehumanizes” and distances itself from reality, because, as he explains to EFE, “what mother wants to leave her daughter behind?”

Luisannys Mundaraín, 22, carries her baby in her arms. She breastfeeds him. She tells EFE that when she was crossing one of the cliffs with the baby she slipped, but she was able to catch herself at the last moment. To which were added the snakes, spiders, rivers, and “those thieves who steal from one, also rape women.”

Mundaraín then recounts how his group was intercepted on “a mound” by a group of armed hooded men, who asked them for “$100 for each one, and whoever did not give him the money had to hand over the phone, if not an iPhone, or else “She was a woman, she had to stay there, you know why.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) assured, before the Panamanian authorities banned them from continuing to provide medical care in the country, that they treated more than 1,300 people for sexual violence in Darién between April 2021 and January 2024.

“What you live is a total hell,” says the young woman, but the crisis in Venezuela gave her no other option, with 12-hour days in a supermarket for $20 a week, when “a package of diapers was just $5 and the most expensive food.”

Thus, when in the middle of the electoral campaign some Panamanian politicians say that they are going to close the 266 km of border in Darién, the young woman sighs.

“It is impossible for them to close it, because there are thousands of dangers, migrants will always continue to go through what they suffer in those countries, we are poor. They will always continue to happen, risking their lives, their children, everything,” he concludes.

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