The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that “almost 19,000 migrant children have journeyed through the Darien Gap so far this year, nearly three times more than the number registered over the five previous years combined.”
In a statement on Monday, UNICEF confirmed that “more than 1 in 5 migrants crossing the border between Colombia and Panama are children. Half of them is below the age of five.”
In 2021, at least five children were recorded dead in the woods. More than 150 children, including newborn babies, have arrived in Panama without their parents since the beginning of this year, a roughly 20-fold increase over last year.
In the first months of 2021, there is a new increase of migrants, including children and pregnant women crossing the Darien Gap in Panama, which it is considered one of the world’s most dangerous jungles.
Half of the children on the move are under 5 years old. pic.twitter.com/KkTKVhzGDg
— Jean Gough (@Jean_UNICEF) March 25, 2021
“Deep in the jungle, robbery, rape, and human trafficking are as dangerous as wild animals, insects, and the absolute lack of safe drinking water. Week after week, more children are dying, losing their parents, or getting separated from their relatives while on this perilous journey. It’s appalling that criminal groups are taking advantage of these children when they are the most vulnerable,” said UNICEF Regional Director Jean Gough.
Criminal gangs are increasingly and deliberately using sexual violence as a weapon of terror in the Darien jungle. UNICEF received 29 allegations of adolescent girls being sexually abused during the tour between January and September 2021. Many more women have also come forward to say they have been sexually abused.