By Carlos Guillermo León
The situation of extreme poverty, armed conflict, limited access to means of development, and in some cases family pressure, is driving ever more children and adolescents from Central America to travel along migration corridors in the hope of reaching the US border, or otherwise trying their luck in Mexico. Like Mexico, many countries have already signed various international agreements regarding protection of the human rights of the child, and laid down such principles as the best interests of the child and the pro persona principle in their legislations. Nevertheless, such issues as the protection of migrants, especially minors, continue to be an urgent priority.
At the end of 2013 Mexico’s National Institute of Migration reported a high number of migrations involving minors . Organisations such as Caritas work to protect these minors and lobby for the adoption of new government policies that give central importance to the integral development of the person. For example, Caritas Mexico has drawn up Protocols for the Care and Integral Accompaniment of Minors, with special attention paid to minors in accordance with Mexican law, and has signed a collaboration agreement with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).
Recognised as a vulnerable sector of the population, one may consider that any violations of the dignity of minors are compounded by the combination of their age and migrant situation, so specific efforts and more stringent dialogue are needed from governments, civil organisations and society in general. This has been understood by the Convoy of Central American Mothers, an organisation consisting of mothers from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. Every year they seek a response from the Mexican authorities regarding the whereabouts of their sons, daughters and grandchildren who have disappeared during the migration process.
In October 2012 I had the opportunity to participate in one of these convoys. “We sent them out alive, we want them alive,” was one of the slogans chanted by the mothers in their journey along the railway lines, where they rendered homage to all those no longer there with flowers. Disappearing isn’t the same as dying; the period of mourning doesn’t end and the yearning remains, deeply wearing down the families.
I accompanied and interviewed some of the mothers as they passed through Mexico. Each of them had a photo of their disappeared loved one hanging round their neck. It was heartbreaking to see the photos of these child-like faces. Dilma Escobar from Medina de Progreso, Honduras, was there because her daughter, Olga Romero, had migrated to Tapachula, Chiapas, to work in a factory so she could send money home for her five children. The morning of 27 January 2010 was the last time Mrs Dilma spoke to her daughter by phone. She was taken away, kidnapped and disappeared in a second, while waiting in line to take some photos of children. Dilma visited Tapachula and the places where her daughter had been and looked for the room-mates she’d lived with, who denied having known her. Olga Romero was most likely one more victim of the people trafficking networks that operate in southern Mexico.
Few mothers have been able to find their disappeared loved ones, but their search goes on. They continued their journey through Mexico and arrived in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, where the migrants’ cemetery is located. It was built in the face of the indifference of society, corruption and forgetfulness in the place where 72 bodies were found in 2010, which were discovered thanks to the testimony of a survivor. The slaughter was repeated in 2011 and at least 193 other bodies were found in secret graves. In the same year the CNDH revealed in a special report that 11,333 kidnappings of migrants were recorded during a six-month period. The official reports indicate that no minors were found in San Fernando on either occasion. However, no one could show us any evidence to the contrary.
A migrant told me that “along the railway lines no one questions motives, and hopes, dreams and fears are shared”. Appealing to this spirit of solidarity, it’s vital that the legal instruments for the protection of minor migrants already adopted become reality. Indeed, these minors are the most vulnerable among the vulnerable.
Being a migrant is a personal condition, which neither diminishes nor increases one’s qualities or capacities. It’s a circumstance that responds to the most essential human needs: development, freedom, hope and happiness.
Being a migrant isn’t a crime, but rather a struggle to develop one’s dreams and one’s future. We must protect the essential core of our society. Only by working together will be able to envisage a day when on asking a child, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”, he or she won’t have to answer, “I want to be a migrant”.