Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern over Discoveries of 370 Child Migrants Abandoned by their Traffickers in Mexico

April 16, 2014

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the discoveries of 370 migrant children and adolescents who had been abandoned in different parts of Mexico, between March 17 and 24, by traffickers who were trying to take them to the United States of America.

According to publicly known information, these migrant children and adolescents were found by agents of the National Migration Institute (INM) in dangerous and hard-to-reach locations in 14 states throughout Mexico. The majority of these children and adolescents are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The authorities reported that the minors had been abandoned by migrant traffickers who were moving them through Mexico after having received sums ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 per child to take them to the United States. When they were discovered, many of these children and adolescents showed signs of dehydration, extreme fatigue, and foot injuries, and were afraid because they did not know where they were. Of the 370 children and adolescents who were rescued, 163 were unaccompanied. According to the INM, the children who were found included some as young as 9 years old. Nine alleged migrant traffickers involved with some of these cases were reportedly identified by the Federal Police and brought before the relevant authorities.

The Commission has repeatedly received information indicating a drastic increase in the flows of child migrants heading toward the United States in recent years to flee the violence they suffer in their countries of origin, reunite with their families, or seek a better life. The increase in the migration flows of children and adolescents has also been recognized by the INM in Mexico and by the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States. The annual figures of migrant children and adolescents detained in Mexico show a significant increase in child migration through Mexico. According to INM figures, in 2011 there were 4,160 incidents of migrant children and adolescents in immigrant detention; in 2012, this figure rose to 6,107; and in 2013 it continued to increase, reaching 9,893 incidents of migrant children and adolescents held in immigrant detention. This represents an increase of 137 percent between 2011 and 2013. Moreover, the figures published by the INM for January of this year indicate a continuation of this trend, with 855 incidents of migrant children and adolescents in immigrant detention. For its part, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that 60,000 or more unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents could enter the United States in 2014. Since most of the migrant children and adolescents entering the United States come from Mexico or from Central American countries, this by necessity means that they go through Mexican territory.

The IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, Commissioner Felipe González, stated that “these incidents are one more indication of the extreme vulnerability of tens of thousands of child migrants who try to cross Mexico every year. This situation has been widely documented in recent years by civil society organizations, international agencies, and even the State of Mexico itself. The State must implement a migration policy that guarantees real protection of the rights of child migrants, and not policies or measures focused on criminalizing child migrants, such as automatic detention and deportation without observance of due process.”

With regard to these events, Commissioner Rosa María Ortiz, the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, also noted that “child migrants must, first and foremost, be considered children. Children deserve special protection, as recognized in international human rights law and in the domestic laws of the States. Their status as migrants should not come to the detriment of this protection and of respect for children’s rights; to the contrary, child migrants find themselves in situations that gravely endanger their basic rights, such as their right to life and humane treatment, as they are often victims of abuse and exploitation throughout the entire journey. In fact, many of these children have been forced to migrate because of situations of violence they have faced in their home countries, others because they are trying to reunite with their families. States have the duty to provide them with adequate protection, in particular not to subject them to deprivation of liberty but to offer them protective services provided by personnel trained to deal with children and in familiar surroundings, similar to a family or community environment. In short, child migrants should receive that comprehensive protection that has so much been promised to them and is still not reflected in laws and practices on migration.”

In light of the increased presence of children and adolescents in migration flows, it is imperative for the State of Mexico to implement all measures that may be necessary to ensure that the human rights of these children be respected and guaranteed. Under international human rights law, all decisions adopted by the authorities must be guided by the principle of the best interests of the child, and decisions must be made through procedures that ensure due process and that are adapted to the child’s circumstances to enable the child’s effective understanding and participation. In particular, children have the right to be heard in the context of proceedings involving their rights, and have the right to legal representation which is adapted, high-quality, and free of charge and which enables them to lay claim to their rights. Moreover, the State must guarantee that the right to personal freedom of these children and adolescents is not infringed upon due to their migration status and that their rights are respected and guaranteed, including their right to health and education and their right to seek and receive asylum, along with the principle of non-return in cases in which this applies.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 40/14