Last month, my colleague Orwin and I were invited to join UNICEF NextGen and UNICEF Mexico in Tapachula, on Mexico’s southern border, to experience their work in child protection up close. The trip focused on UNICEF’s Children on the Move campaign, which supports children around the world looking for a better life and place to call home. I’ve always wanted to see UNICEF’s work firsthand, and it was incredible to witness their impact on the ground.
We’ve partnered with UNICEF USA for nearly three years to help children facing conflict, poverty, famine, and disaster around the world. Working on their digital fundraising and advocacy program, we’ve learned directly from experts within the organization about the work UNICEF is doing on the ground in 190 countries worldwide, including how they protect children on the move from violence, abuse, and exploitation.
The global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has reached a record high — and Central America is among the hardest-hit regions. Approximately 16,000 children were apprehended in Mexico in the first six months of 2016, and more than 85% were sent back to their countries, according to UNICEF USA. Most of these children are fleeing the threat of trafficking and other violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which have some of the world’s highest murder rates.
Source: International Organization for Migration, Migrant Routes from Central America to the United States, 2016
To help put an end to the crisis, UNICEF works with governments in Central America and Mexico to strengthen services that reduce the vulnerability of children to violence, crime, and other threats. UNICEF also supports programs for education and health, with a special focus on the most affected communities, and advocates for the protection of children’s rights throughout their journey, and for governments to provide assistance to returnee children.
We spent our three-day trip moving from one shelter to the next. We heard stories of trafficking, extortion, and unimaginable violence, and we met children as young as eight years old who had migrated alone. What these children and families face on their refugee journey — their fight to simply survive — is both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. They are among the bravest and most resilient people in the world, but in their minds, all they want is to be seen and treated as human. Hearing them articulate this simple truth brought home the UNICEF message that shockingly, needs to be reiterated to leaders, policy-makers, and citizens around the world: “A child is a child, no matter what.”
Our three days in Tapachula were full of emotion and fired us up even more to continue fighting the good fight. The opportunity to experience UNICEF’s work brought us closer to the issue and will enable us to inject a firsthand view to the fundraising and advocacy creative and messaging that we send to our audience every week. By spreading the message that #AChildisaChild — both in our campaigns and in our personal lives — we can empower our partners to do even more amazing work for children around the world.
You can stand in solidarity with UNICEF and children uprooted by war, violence, and poverty, by supporting the six-point agenda for action to keep refugee and migrant children safe, including promoting “measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination, and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.” We still have far to go when it comes to securing equality and basic human rights around the world. However, it’s heartening to see big organizations like UNICEF working together with small, local NGOs to advocate for the rights of every child and family.
Take action today:
- Stand with #ChildrenUprooted by signing the pledge today — share it with friends and family.
- Educate your community: Learn how else you can take action to protect children through our End Trafficking Toolkit.
- Learn the signs and report them: If you see something say something. Report it to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
- Work with your community to host an event or a fundraiser to support UNICEF’s great work!
- Look through other wonderful resources that are offered on UNICEF’s End Trafficking site.
You can support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to protect child migrants. Urge Congress to do the same by writing your officials a letter or a tweet.
Justine Nancarrow is an Account Director at BSD New York.