Developing strategies to end hunger
 

153 posts categorized "Foreign Aid Reform"

Benefits of Addressing Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malnutrition in Tandem

(Blog was originally submitted to the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases in support of their policy brief Toward a Healthy Future: Working Together to End Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malnutrition, endorsed by 22 global health organizations)

Nutrition is a foundational element in human development, and a growing body of evidence shows that it is a vital link across international development sectors. Although nutrition was once solely the domain of public health professionals, development assistance practitioners in agriculture, education, gender, and water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) are realizing that their successful project outcomes can have a direct and positive effect on nutrition.

Does a value-chain project in horticulture or livestock production improve nutrition? What about efforts to keep girls in school an extra year or two before they assume family and village responsibilities? Does improved hand-washing and food preparation hygiene improve nutrition?  The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes!

Sabin_for Botes blog 102814
WASH activities are nutrition-sensitive! Photo credit: Sabin Vaccine Institute

The number of people in the world affected by at least one of the 17 NTDs listed by WHO is approaching 1.5 billion, and we know now that NTDs can damage a person’s nutritional status at any point in life. Worse, contracting an NTD can cause infection and other problems that cancel out or even reverse efforts to improve nutrition.

As nutrition started to be at the core of development assistance across sectors, it was clear that a comprehensive strategy to coordinate efforts was necessary. In May 2014, USAID announced its Nutrition Strategy. Bread for the World Institute participated in its development, along with other members of the nutrition stakeholder community (advocacy and operational partners of USAID).

The nutrition strategy recognizes the essential role of nutrition in human development (especially during the “1,000 Days” period from pregnancy to age 2). Moreover, the strategy acknowledges that high rates of chronic malnutrition can cause significant losses in a nation’s GDP and impose other economic costs. The USAID strategy also lays the foundation for the development of a comprehensive Global Nutrition Coordination Plan among all U.S. government offices.

The strategy treats nutrition as “multi-sectoral”-- meaning that effective nutrition interventions can be made not only in health programming, but also in agriculture, education, and WASH projects. The most important direct nutrition interventions include 11 “essential nutrition actions” articulated by the World Health Organization and identified as particularly effective in fighting malnutrition in the research published in the Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition series. Indirect nutrition actions are nutrition-sensitive activities that target the underlying causes of undernutrition, and direct interventions can be complemented by indirect nutrition actions for maximum impact. In fact, combining direct and indirect actions by “bundling” projects that include both has been found to be the most effective development investment a country can make.

USAID is committed to the World Health Assembly 2025 Nutrition Targets and is developing additional nutrition targets it will use to track and evaluate its development assistance. Included in these is a target in Feed the Future of reducing stunting  by 20 percent in five years in regions where this initiative has programs.

Companion legislative bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House that would authorize Feed the Future as the government’s primary program for global food and nutrition security. Despite recent improvements reported by FAO, there are still 805 million chronically undernourished people in the world. With legislation, we can solidify U.S. leadership in fighting hunger and malnutrition, build and improve upon vital work that has been done, and leverage a government approach across all sectors and programs to meet specific goals for progress against global hunger and malnutrition.

Scott Bleggi

Long-Term Solutions to the Child Migration Crisis

Mother & Child Nutrition

Photo by Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World

The child migration surge is out of the headlines and the number of children reaching the U.S. border has decreased dramatically, but the three nations of Central America’s Northern Triangle continue to grapple with violence and poverty. It may be only a matter of time until history repeats itself, because the root causes of unauthorized migration for both children and adults remain unchanged.

At the height of the crisis, Congress granted U.S. government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement increased flexibility in spending previously allocated funds to respond to the crisis. So far, however, Congress has not approved Obama administration requests for additional funding, either for services at the border or for development assistance in the child migrants’ home countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Some congressional policy makers continue to seek long-term legislative solutions to the poverty and violence driving migration through increased and more effective U.S. foreign development assistance to the region. Bread for the World supports integrating migration issues into U.S. development assistance, including targeting programs to high-propensity migration regions in Central America and other regions that are sources of many immigrants.

In addition to congressional efforts to build momentum for a comprehensive solution to the root causes of migration from Central America, country-led solutions to reduce insecurity and poverty in the region are emerging. Multilateral organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank are also involved in these discussions.

One of the plans emerging is the "Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle." This plan was announced in late September 2014 by Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. It includes a plan by Central American governments to boost economic growth in the region and reduce unauthorized immigration to the United States.

So far few details of the plan have been made public, but the focus on the “root causes” in migrants’ nations of origin is a promising first step -- both in responding to the poverty and violence that drive child and adult unauthorized migrants from Central America to the United States and in engaging all countries involved in doing their part. It will take the engagement of both the United States and Central American nations to help solve the socioeconomic problems driving immigrants north.  Andrew Wainer

Child Migration Decreases, But Poverty and Violence Do Not

Uacsouthwestborder
Central American child migrants are less likely to be in the U.S. headlines these days, but that doesn’t mean children are not still struggling to get to the United States. It’s just that fewer are reaching the U.S.-Mexico border than during this past June and July.

Almost 60,000 Central American child migrants have arrived so far in 2014, but in recent weeks the number who cross the border has dropped dramatically. The Border Patrol reported that the number of child migrants was 60 percent lower in August than during the height of the migration earlier in the summer.

With the lower numbers comes the key question: Why?

There are probably multiple causes. One may be the weather. There is a seasonal pattern of unauthorized migration to the southwestern United States: the migration of Central Americans through Mexico traditionally drops during the summer because of the extremely hot temperatures in the desert that straddles part of the U.S. –Mexico border. Reports also indicate that heavy rains and flooding along the Mexican-Guatemala border may have deterred some migrants from making the journey in the late summer.

For its part, the Department of Homeland Security claimed that its increased and quickened deportations of adult migrants reinforced the message to Central Americans that unauthorized migrants arriving in the United States will not be given refuge and deterred some from leaving home. The U.S. government also claimed that its public relations campaign in Central America, which advised people considering migration not to risk the difficult journey to the United States, contributed to the decline in unauthorized migrants at the border — although this was questioned by experts who noted the failure of similar past efforts.

Perhaps the most important factor in the decreasing number of Central Americans reaching the border is a crackdown on illegal migration in Mexico. Immigration authorities have stepped up their efforts to interdict and deport Central Americans heading across Mexico to the United States. As a National Public Radio (NPR) report stated, “Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has begun arresting and deporting tens of thousands of Central Americans long before they reach the U.S. border.”

Traditionally, the Mexican government has not stopped Central American migrants en route to the United States, but migrants now report more immigration checkpoints in Mexico’s interior, and the Mexican government announced that it would heavily reinforce its southern border with Central America. NPR quoted one Mexican expert, "We are now the servants of the [United States] in this role."

What does this new role of Mexico as a sort of “buffer state” for the United States in interdicting unauthorized migrants mean for Central Americans trying to reach the United States?

Mexican analyst Sergio Aguayo said that migrants are still fleeing Central America and that the root causes -- poverty, exploitation, and violence -- remain. "It is not a simple issue that can be solved by closing the doors of Mexico or convincing them not to come."

The problem can hardly be considered solved just because it has dropped off U.S. news reports. The first wave of the child migrant crisis has abated without signs of improvement in the poverty and violence that are driving children to flee. In future posts, we’ll examine some of the long-term policy options that Bread for the World supports to improve conditions in Central America so that its people – whether adults or children – are not compelled to leave their homes to survive.

 

Andrew Wainer

Children’s Mortality Cut By Half

A new report, issued by UNICEF along with other U.N. agencies and the World Bank, highlights a dramatic decrease in child mortality. Since 1990, the number of children under age 5 who die each year has been cut in half: from 12.7 million then to 6.3 million now. This is a remarkable achievement that amounts to saving 17,000 lives every day.

Looking at it another way, the rate of decline in child mortality is falling three times faster than previously projected. As a result, 100 million children are alive who would have died if the death rate had remained at 1990 levels—including 24 million newborns that would not have made it more than a few weeks.

UNICEF pic 091914

Girls playing in Angola, which still has the world’s highest rate of under-5 mortality. Young children there are 25 times more likely to die than those born in the United States.  © UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1773/Nesbitt

The report, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, says that the child deaths over the past 20 years were largely preventable. There were large geographical disparities: where a child was born made a big difference as to whether he or she survived.

Together, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were the homes of 80 percent of those who died. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in every 11 children die before their fifth birthday. That is 15 times the death rate in high-income countries, where an average of one in 159 children don’t reach their fifth birthday.

Moving forward, the most important area in which to focus health and nutrition interventions is the first month of a child’s life, which is called the neonatal period. Two million infants die within a week of birth. Some effective and low-cost interventions for both mothers and children are available. These could make a big difference, but sometimes this needs to be communicated to pregnant women, their husbands, their families, and their communities. For example, breastfeeding within an hour of birth reduces the risk of neonatal death by 44 percent—but less than half of newborns around the world have that opportunity.

The “Promise Renewed” of the report title has two goals. The first is to keep the promises of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 — to reduce the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, and MDG 5 – to reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths in this time period.  The second goal is to keep moving forward, beyond 2015, until no child or mother dies from preventable causes. In 2012, nearly 180 governments pledged to scale up efforts and speed up the decline in preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths.

The Institute has written extensively about the MDGs, most recently in a blog about another recent report, the 2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World,  whichconfirms that the goal of halving hunger that is part of MDG 1 is within reach. What’s clear in both reports is that despite recent successes, a concerted effort focused on MDG goals and targets must be sustained. Further country-led development efforts in nutrition, health, and agriculture are key to achieving the goals.

The U.S. contribution to the MDGs is largely made through two USAID programs, the Global Health Initiative (GHI) and Feed the Future (FtF).  Congress has enacted legislation on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR (part of GHI), through which nutrition funding is authorized. FtF currently lacks formal authorization through legislation, but both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering versions of the Global Food Security Act, which will make FtF part of U.S. law.

U.S. efforts in international agricultural development and nutrition largely focus on the 1,000 Days, the “window of opportunity” between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.  Leading economists agree that development assistance investments here yield a very high rate of return. More importantly, these investments save mothers’ and children’s lives.

Scott Bleggi

 

Fleeing Gender-Based Violence in Central America

Girls and violence

“In Honduras, violence against women is widespread and systematic,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, July 2014

Between October 2013 and July 2014 57,000 unaccompanied child migrants (UAC) arrived at the U.S. southern border. The large majority were from the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. During this time, 22,000 children travelling with at least one parent also arrived from this region. The surge of children – alone and sometimes with a parent – is widely acknowledged as a humanitarian crisis.

Within the broader influx of children and mothers is an even greater increase in UAC girls. Since October 2013 there has been a 77 percent increase in unaccompanied girls going to the United States compared to only an 8 percent increase for boys. Over the same period more than 13,000 UAC Honduran girls under traveled to the United States compared with just over 7,000 for the previous fiscal year. For girls 12 and younger the increase has been even larger – 140 percent.

What would cause parents to go into debt to send their daughters on a dangerous journey more than 1000 miles long – sometimes alone – to the United States? United Nations interviews with child migrants finds that they are typically fleeing a combination of poverty and violence. Among Honduran UACs, the UN found that 44 percent included violence as a reason for migration and 80 percent included work and study opportunities and a chance to help their families.

Some of society’s most vulnerable members – women and girls face additional threats beyond the endemic violence and pervasive poverty in the Northern Triangle. During a recent visit to Honduras, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo, said, “Violence against women is widespread and systematic. The climate of fear, in both the public and private spheres, and the lack of accountability for violations of human rights of women, is the norm rather than the exception.”

Honduras is the murder capital of the world and presents a dangerous environment for most Hondurans and particularly for the poor. But for women and girls the persistent fear is compounded by gender-driven violence and coercion. Manjoo said the country suffered from “high levels of domestic violence, femicide and sexual violence” with a 263 percent increase in the number of violent deaths of women between 2005 and 2013.

With weak rule-of-law and compromised police and judicial systems there are few options for Honduran women to defend themselves. There’s a laundry list of societal barriers facing women seeking justice: Lack of effective implementation of legislation, gender discrimination in the justice system, and the lack of access to services that prevent future acts of violence are just some of the gaps and barriers Honduran women face. With an estimated 95 per cent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes in Honduras, it shouldn’t be surprising that Honduran women and girls are compelled to flee the country no matter what the cost

  Andrew Wainer

Data to End Hunger: How to Save 800,000 Infant and Toddler Lives Every Year

As Bread for the World Institute has noted in other posts in our Data to End Hunger series, frequently we are able to identify specific problems related to hunger without necessarily being able to select the solutions that will work best because "we just don't have the data." In fact, just a few weeks ago, our first-ever hackathon helped illustrate the fact that the global community is missing an enormous amount of data that could help drive much more rapid progress on women's empowerment.

In some cases, though, we *do* have the data. It's not new or controversial.

 Breastfeeding week
 Credit: UNICEF.

- See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.3Y1FapP6.dpuf

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the optimal way of feeding infants. The evidence shows that improvements in breastfeeding could prevent the deaths of 800,000 young children every year. It is the most effective strategy we have to protect babies' lives.

Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf
It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least.  Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade.  In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf
It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least.  Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade.  In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf

"It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least," said Casie Tesfai, technical nutrition policy advisor for the International Rescue Committee. "Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade. In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the Millennium Development Goals targets on breastfeeding."

For more from Tesfai, including her perspective on why efforts to advocate and support breastfeeding must focus not only on pregnant women, but on men, midwives, other healthcare workers, and community leaders, see her piece "Breastfeeding: Number One in Impact, Last in Progress."

In addition to the many events, updates, and reflections related to last week's celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, the attention of the development community was, of course, closely focused on events surrounding the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. There were reports on the administration's Feed the Future global food security initiative (which has now reached 9.4 million children in 12 African countries with improved nutrition), the New Alliance for Global Food Security, the commitments made at the recent AU summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and a number of other hunger-related efforts.

Here is just one of the useful summaries of the Africa Leaders Summit as a whole, including a list of the "dizzying but encouraging array of new partnerships" that were announced. 

The buzz from last week's events was significant, and that's heartening: the global momentum on food and nutrition security is still very much in evidence. At the same time, the world also continues to largely miss a "no-brainer" opportunity to save children's lives.

Michele Learner

Too Many SDGs?

544801

Vuk Jeremić, President of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly, opens the first session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Photo source: UN Multimedia.

Late last month, the U.N. General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) submitted its proposal for a set of goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when their deadline, December 2015, passes.

The SDGs, to be presented for approval at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, are an effort to accelerate and intensify the gains in human development that the MDGs began. The MDGs galvanized remarkable global political commitment from rich and poor countries alike – and this is why they inspired significant progress against poverty and hunger.

The eight MDGs are concise and easy to remember – e.g., cut the rate of extreme poverty in half, reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths. They have proven to be easy to explain to the public and to adapt to the circumstances of individual countries.  At this writing, there are 17 proposed SDGs – which run the risk of losing the simplicity that made their predecessors so popular and effective.  It may sound simplistic, but it is also accurate:  in order to spur lasting improvements, the SDGs must be marketable.

One of the most significant critiques of the MDGs has been the non-inclusive way in which they were formulated. The voices of developing country leaders, civil society, and low-income people themselves were largely absent from the MDG discussion. This is something that the UN has worked very hard to remedy this time around. A list of 17 proposed SDGs is a good sign— many more people have contributed their thoughts, making it more likely that the SDGs will avoid the blind spots of the MDGs.

Stronger global partnerships based on mutual respect are also a major theme of the Africa Leaders Summit, taking place this week in Washington, DC. The emphasis on trade in this first-ever event reflects the evolving view of U.S.-Africa relations – and U.S. relations with all developing regions – as focused on shared goals that are nonetheless country-owned. Thus, each country will pursue goals such as ending hunger by 2030 according to its own national circumstances and priorities. If well-packaged and well-presented, the SDGs will undergird this partnership model.

Keeping the list of SDGs wieldy is essential, however. Early research in the psychology of memory found that generally, human beings do not retain lists of more than seven or eight meaningful concepts at once. The results of a more recent study by psychologists at the University of Missouri, Columbia indicated an even smaller list, placing the optimal number of distinct ideas that a young adult can store in short-term “working memory” at three to five. Conventional wisdom, from speeches and sermons to advertisements, affirms this finding.  Three-point speeches are the norm, and you will never see a commercial that tries to sell you on 17 concepts at once.

Like many other stakeholders, we at Bread for the World Institute have made our case for why the issues most important to us—a goal to end hunger and a nutrition target—should be represented in the SDGs. And there are many other critically important concerns. But there are only so many seats on the plane. What’s most important in the end is that the plane is light enough to take off. If people can’t grasp the goals easily, they will have a much harder time getting behind them.

The General Assembly should explore practical ways to preserve the breadth of the proposed SDGs while making them as accessible as possible. Grouping is one possibility:  the 17 goals could be sorted into four or five descriptive categories that are easier to name and summarize.

Communicating complex ideas without oversimplifying or alienating your audience is about striking a delicate balance. The potential impact of the SDGs hangs in that balance.       Derek Schwabe

A Perfect Opportunity to Make Progress Against Hunger

Photo for African Leaders Summit

 Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Heads of state and government have converged on Washington, DC,  for President Obama's historic summit with African leaders, taking place today, August 4, through Wednesday, August 6.

In addition to its focus on advancing trade and investment in Africa, the summit will "[highlight] the depth and breadth of the United States’ commitment to the African continent and... enable discussion of concrete ideas to deepen the partnership," according to the White House.

One sign that this deeper partnership is becoming a reality is the U.S. government's four-year-old global food security initiative, Feed the Future. As we've discussed frequently on Institute Notes, Feed the Future focuses on smallholder farmers as the key to the agriculture-led growth necessary to significantly reduce hunger and poverty. In just the past year, Feed the Future has reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers, and Bread for the World Institute President David Beckmann calls the initiative "a down payment on global food and nutrition security." For more on the future of Feed the Future, listen to a Voice of America interview with Institute senior foreign assistance policy analyst Faustine Wabwire.

The African Union, for its part, committed to ending hunger by 2025 at its 2014 summit, held in late June in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. This year also marks 10 years since the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), where governments committed to making agriculture a higher priority. As discussed in the Institute's short paper, The Push-Up Decade: CAADP at 10,10 of the 54 African Union member states have reached the target set at the outset of allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.

Equipping Africa's next generation with the tools needed to build a more peaceful and prosperous future is a top priority for both African countries and the U.S. government.  The African Leaders Summit is paired with another first-of-its-kind effort, a U.S.-based training program and White House summit for 500 African leaders ages 25 to 35, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) launched by the administration in 2010.

Simple numbers tell us why the focus must be on the next generation: as of 2012, the median age in sub-Saharan countries was 19.7 (by comparison, the U.S. median age is about 37). A startling 85 percent of all the people in sub-Saharan Africa are younger than 45.

The potential of such a young continent is enormous. But the data also point to an immense barrier to realizing that potential: hunger and malnutrition. In some countries, stunting -- an indication of chronic malnutrition early in life that affects a person's health and intellectual development for a lifetime -- affects more than 40 percent of all children.

Of the current 53 member countries of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, 34 are sub-Saharan African nations. SUN member countries have identified malnutrition, particularly during the 1,000 Days between a woman's pregnancy and her child's second birthday, as a critical problem in their societies. They are working together to bring proven nutrition interventions  -- many of them straightforward and inexpensive actions such as providing iron supplements to pregnant women -- to many more women, infants, and toddlers at risk. 

The African Leaders Summit, particularly today's discussion of "Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate," is a rare chance for leaders to use the growing partnership links between the United States and African countries to solidify global goals and concrete actions on hunger and nutrition. 

Michele Learner

The 10-Year Outlook for International Food Security

Blog 072314The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently issued a report that projects the food security of 76 low- and middle-income countries for the years 2014-2024. The assessment was based on two main factors: capacity to produce food, and capacity to import.

The report is a follow-up to ERS’ first report that made 10-year food security projections, which covered 2013-2023 and was based on the same factors.

The ability to produce food domestically is, of course, especially important in the parts of Asia and Africa that rely most heavily on local agriculture. The ability to pay for food imports is a much more significant factor in Latin America, the Caribbean, and North Africa, where countries import a large proportion of the food they need. ERS weighed both factors in order to project the number of people in each country or region who will be food-insecure.

Over the short term, ERS believes that the overall situation in the 76 countries will improve. The share of the population that is food-insecure fell 1.6 percent during the year 2013 to 2014. This is expected to translate into a 9 percent drop in the overall numbers of hungry people, from 539 million in 2013 to 490 million in 2014 (for the 76 countries in the report).

However, over the decade 2014-2024, ERS projects that the number of people who are food-insecure will increase. This is because the share of the population that is food-insecure is expected to grow from 13.9 percent now to 14.6 percent in 2024. As might be expected, the main reason that ERS identified is that the food supply – what can be produced domestically plus what a country can afford to import – is expected to grow slowly, while demand for food is already strong and will grow more quickly.  

What does the report mean for global hunger? The ERS says that short-term improvements in improving food security in these countries, while positive, will not be sustained in the long-term due to population growth, weak country infrastructure and other factors. Improving production capacities of small-holder farmers, most often women, is essential.  Giving women farmers improved access to land, seed, fertilizer and markets in these countries is an important key to this, and will help build the foundation to a future where food insecurity and hunger are a thing of the past.

Scott Bleggi

 

For Families in Central America, Heartbreaking Decisions

Percent Change in Unaccompanied minors
Why are so many more unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border with Mexico? Most (about 75 percent) of the new wave of minors are not actually from Mexico, but have made the long journey through Mexico from the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

If the surge of child migrants were caused by softer U.S. policies -- or rumors of softer U.S. policies -- we would expect many to be from Mexico. After all, Mexico, which shares its long border with the United States, is the home country of the majority of undocumented immigrants here. But as we see in the above graphic, Mexico is not the source of the increase. In fact, the number of unaccompanied Mexican children has changed little, and even declined since 2009.

The primary causes are, instead, deep poverty and extreme levels of violence in Central America. The striking disparities between the haves and have-nots in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador sustain high levels of hunger and malnutrition, particularly among young children, whose rates of stunting are soaring. At the same time, the three are the most violence-plagued nations in the hemisphere. Gangs often choose to recruit elementary school children; those who refuse to join are sometimes killed along with their entire families, and girls are frequently targeted for gang rape. This is why so many of those trying to cross the U.S. border are children and teenagers.

Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala Lead the World in Murder Rates
As long as poverty, inequality, and weak governance persist – and often worsen – many families in these three countries face a dilemma no parent should have to face: keep their children home even though they can’t protect them, or send them on long, dangerous journeys in hopes that they will reach a safer place.

To resolve the crisis of the unaccompanied child migrants, border control is not enough. The root causes are at home. Thousands of desperate families have determined that fleeing, even with the risk of never reaching their destination, is the best option their children have. The United States can do a great deal to help alleviate poverty and enable Central American governments to protect their citizens. Read more about specific policy recommendations from the Institute’s senior immigration policy analyst, Andrew Wainer. Derek Schwabe

Stay Connected

Bread for the World