Guatemala is a country of origin, transit, destination and return of migrants and asylum seekers, due to its geographical position. It is also a country with high poverty indicators, little access to services and one of the most violent countries in the region. In fiscal year 2019, a total of 215,562 Guatemalan migrant children were detained at the southern border of the United States (30,329 unaccompanied children and 185,233 accompanied). Of these, more than 19,600 children and adolescents were returned from the United States and Mexico to Guatemala, demonstrating the great dimension of human mobility from Guatemala and also returned to the country.
In 2020, despite the COVID-19 containment measures, 4,511 unaccompanied girls and boys were returned to Guatemala from Mexico (2,559) and the United States (1,952). Returns from the United States increased 225 per cent compared to 2019. In addition, at least 2,191 girls and boys returned accompanied, in 1,696 family groups. Due to restrictions in the United States and Mexico, many of the returned children have not been able to access asylum, despite having been victims of family violence, gender violence, or sexual violence in Guatemala.
© UNICEF/UN076691/Yoseph Amaya
Since 2018, the phenomenon of migrant “caravans” has developed in Central America. The most recent was in January 2021 with more than 7,000 people, including approximately 1,500 children. This group was stopped by Guatemalan authorities in the Vado Hondo area (Chiquimula department), where clashes between migrants and armed forces were reported. The caravan remained in this site between 16 January and the evening of 18 January, when the group was dissolved. Most of migrants were transferred to the border to return to Honduras, and Guatemalan authorities provided care to more than 90 unaccompanied children. These “caravans” have been motivated by violence and poverty, in addition to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and the devastation left by hurricanes Eta and Iota, which struck Guatemala leaving 1.8 million people in need (including approximately 684,000 children).
As an emergency aid and children's rights organization of the United Nations, UNICEF has the mandate to respond to the needs of children in emergencies and to help government counterparts implement a wide range of child protection programs. These programs depend on the timely and accurate collection of data and its safe and efficient management, storage and use. UNICEF's Child Protection goals are to actively prevent children from being harmed and to support programs to respond to cases where children are at risk of violence, exploitation or abuse, especially during the COVID-19 emergency.
UNICEF Guatemala has addressed the issue of childhood in a migratory context for several years, which has generated a presence and experience together with State institutions and civil society for the care, protection and monitoring of cases, especially those who have protection needs for being victims of gender or sexual violence. This presence of UNICEF before, during and after the emergency helps to guarantee psychosocial care services and medical assistance, accommodation conditions respecting health protocols, especially during the COVID 19 pandemic.
© UNICEF/UN076689/Yoseph Amaya
Innovation in supporting State institutions to have tools that facilitate the registration and follow-up of cases, has allowed to start the process of implementation of the Child Protection Information Management System / Primero™ (CPIMS+ / Primero™), which is an open source global child protection information management system that facilitates case management, family tracing and reunification.
With the support of UNICEF Guatemala, the Ministry of Social Affairs (Secretaría de Bienestar Social in Spanish) started the roll out the CPIMS+ Primero™. With the implementation of Primero™, the Government of Guatemala is taking a proactive approach to case management of vulnerable children including unaccompanied and separated children. The case management approach employed by social workers includes referral to appropriate child protective services for vulnerable, excluded, or at-risk children, family search and reunification and / or alternative family care, as well as follow-up and support for children and families.
Without technology, this pandemic would have been much more difficult to deal with and would have had other devastating effects. Innovation and technologies for development are allowing us to face COVID-19 in a better way and are showing us how important they are for the presentation of services in a fast and efficient, cost-effective way.
Guest blogger: The UNICEF Guatemala Country Office