Migrants carrying children walk by the jungle near Bajo Chiquito
Migrants carrying children walk by the jungle near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama AFP

The amount of children crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous jungle path connecting Colombia and Panama and a key migration route to North America, has increased by 40% so far this year, according to a new release by United Nations agency UNICEF. This puts figures on track for their fifth consecutive yearly increase, the organization added.

Concretely, over 30,000 children have so far crossed the Darien Gap this year. Nearly 2,000 who were unaccompanied or separated from their families, an amount that has tripled in comparison to 2023.

Based on trends observed, UNICEF estimates that the figure could reach 160,000 this year, with an overall 800,000 taking the journey. The number of children in transit is growing five times faster than adults.

"The Darien Gap is no place for children. Many children have died on this arduous, dangerous journey. Women have given birth while on route, bringing new life into the world in the most challenging of circumstances. Many of those who survive the journey arrive sick, hungry, and dehydrated, often with wounds or infections and in desperate need of support," said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Ted Chaiban.

Recounting stories of Children who crossed the Darien Gap, UNICEF reiterated its need for additional funds, saying that only 10% of the over $7.5 million needed to address the "urgent needs of the growing numbers of children and families on the move" has been covered.

"The dangers to children and their unmet needs are increasing as we speak. We need to continue to ensure that no child is left behind. If the response is underfunded, the reach will be limited," the agency added.

In 2023, a record 520,000 people crossed through the gap, about 120,000 of them were children. In 2022, 62 people died on the trek. The provisional count for 2023 stands at 34.

According to an April report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Panamanian government is currently not doing enough to protect the migrants crossing the Darien Gap, with the country focused on restricting movement and rushing migrants through to Costa Rica.

The NGO also reported that neither Panama nor Colombia authorities were not doing enough to investigate and punish violations such as sexual abuse or look for missing people. Since 2021, there have been more than 1,500 reports of sexual violence in the Darien Gap, but the real number is likely to be higher, HRW said.

In that context, Panama´s president-elect, José Raúl Mulino, said he'll shut the trails in the Darien Gap and deport US-bound migrants who enter the country. "In order to do away with the odyssey that is the Darien Gap ... with international aid we will begin a process of repatriation, in full compliance with the human rights of all the people there," Mulino said in a speech to the election body that formally declared him president.

© 2024 Latin Times. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.