The Colombian Ombudsman’s Office warned this Monday that 210 unaccompanied children passed through the Darién, the border between Colombia and Panama, in May, putting them at risk of being victims of forced recruitment, sexual abuse and human trafficking.
This was stated by the Ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, in a statement detailing that "we observed in the month of May the departure through Necoclí towards the Darién plug of 169 boys and girls from 0 to 12 years old and 41 adolescents between 13 and 17 years old".
The so-called Darién Gap is the natural border between Colombia and Panama through which thousands of migrants pass each year, in recent years mostly Haitians and Cubans, on their way to North America.
The main places through which minors pass, according to the Ombudsman, are Apartadó and Necoclí, in the department of Antioquia, and the village of Capurganá (Chocó).
According to Camargo, the migratory profile has changed because while in 2021 Haitian migrants predominated, by 2022 the majority are from Venezuela traveling with children and adolescents.
The Ombudsman added that due to the lack of official mechanisms there is an underreporting of the dynamics of human mobility and, in this sense, it is known that the population flow of Haitians, Angolans, Senegalese and other nationalities persists, but it has not been possible to corroborate either. the exact amount.
The Ombudsman’s Office and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have detected several special situations in field work.
One of them is the greater presence of families traveling with children and adolescents. Similarly, as they have less economic capacity, migrants are forced to stay in public places or even on the street.
In addition, migrants must stay longer in Colombia, carrying out informal economic activities that allow them to gather the resources to continue their journey.
In this context, Camargo assures that "minors are much more exposed to being exploited by illegal armed groups and criminal organizations, which seek to take advantage of this situation and commit recruitment, sexual violence, sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and human trafficking".
The Ombudsman’s Office considers that there are no clear mechanisms for verifying kinship, a lack of public information systems with a focus on children, and weaknesses in registration at the border entrance between Colombia and Ecuador, which increases the vulnerabilities of children.
Given this scenario, Camargo called on national institutions to strengthen their presence in the border areas between Colombia, Ecuador and Panama, especially in the municipalities of the Urabá region of Antioquia and Chocó, to exercise control and promote strategies that tend to prevent and mitigating situations that affect children.