Girls and adolescents on the move express that they suffer gender-based violence and asked to be heard, reveals a new study by Save the Children
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of girls and adolescents who migrate.
Panama City, 7 October – Save the Children presents the study, "Girls on the Move in the Central American and Venezuelan Contexts," to demonstrate the risks and needs of girls and adolescents in Latin America – the main focus and lead participants of the launch event – through their own voices.
Of the estimated 79.5 million displaced people in the world, about 31 million are boys and girls. In the case of Venezuela, it is estimated that more than 5 million people have left their country. As part of the study prepared by Save the Children, the girls interviewed mentioned the common experience of hunger, the lack of services, and the political situation as reasons for migration. “We left because of the way things are… we only ate at dinner time,” says 13-year-old Alejandra *, a Venezuelan teenager who now lives in Colombia.
The study – presented virtually with participants comprising representatives of Central American government agencies, international organizations, and civil society organizations from Latin America – also reveals that girls and adolescents who left Venezuela for Colombia cited eating three meals a day as the positive outcome of their migration. In their country of origin, about 28% of girls and pregnant women reportedly suffer from acute malnutrition.
In the case of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, most of the people migrate due to the conditions of poverty and violence that they endure in their countries. “We came from my country because my father was very violent towards my mother. He hit her, threatened her, he also hit me,” says Jessyca *, a 9-year-old girl who left Honduras with her mother due to domestic violence.
“Many girls travel with the financial and emotional support of their parents, family members or community members residing in other countries, although that support is often insufficient to protect girls from a multitude of risks,” says Victoria Ward, Director of Save the Children’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Girls and adolescents who migrate face a higher risk of violence, including sexual violence, unwanted pregnancy and labor exploitation. Many times these dangers persist in their destinations, where economic needs limit opportunities for education and development,” says Ward.
The study also reveals that most girls and adolescents do not have accurate information about their trip when they start their migration process. During transit, in addition to being exposed to different types of violence, they experience moments of crisis, anxiety, insomnia and other mental health challenges.
In the Venezuelan context, xenophobia is an additional obstacle for social integration, while stigmatization against returnees is an enduring challenge in the Central American context.
"These results require us as international organizations, and also the States, to provide an agile, coordinated, and transformative response that is based on listening to and learning from the girls themselves," says Victoria Ward.
The study included a participatory methodology, incorporating direct consultations with girls and adolescents to ensure their voices are heard and serve as the main drivers of the findings and recommendations. For this, we held focus groups with girls and adolescents and conducted consultations with Save the Children personnel in Colombia and Mexico, as well as different authorities and social organizations that serve migrant populations.
In the study, the same girls share the different strategies they must use for self-protection and continue in the face of any challenge, such as developing friendships during the journey or migrating in groups to protect each other.
Based on the research findings, Save the Children calls on international organizations, civil society, and other key actors to invest in the care and protection of girls and adolescents in situations of migration from origin to destination, including by providing of safe spaces and psychosocial support for children on the move, ensuring adequate care and attention, and advocating for States to implement a gender- and child-focused approach in migration policies.
*The names of the girls and adolescents have been changed for security reasons.
Notes for the editors:
· The studies are part of the global series "Girls on the Move" that analyzes the situation of girls and adolescents in situations of migration in South Africa, Serbia, Greece, Colombia, Mexico, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
· Save the Children supports girls on the move from the point of origin, during transit, and in their countries of destination. Through this series of investigations, Save the Children aims to listen to and learn from girls on the move, with the goal of further strengthening our work by adapting our interventions to their realities and needs in accordance with the reports’ recommendations.