El Salvador: “I am scared they are going to come into my house and hurt me”
It’s coming to the end of the year, when we take a moment to reflect on the year gone by.
What have we achieved? What may we have lost?
But mostly, when the New Year is upon us, we allow ourselves a moment to think about our hopes for the days we have ahead.
We think of the possibilities. We dare to dream.
I spent a lot of 2014 in Central America. As the year draws to its close, I wonder what the New Year will bring for Jennifer*, a 13-year-old girl who, she tells me, has little hope.
Jennifer lives in a seaside town in El Salvador, Central America. As we sit and talk with the sound of gentle waves hitting the sand, I can’t help but notice how serene our surroundings are.
It is a stark contrast to the horror that Jennifer has endured this past year.
A violent place
Latin America’s murder rate is twice the world’s average, making it the most violent region in the world after Sub-Saharan Africa.
This year Jennifer and her father tried to migrate to the US after her uncle and his entire family where murdered by a gang in her neighbourhood and her own family was threatened.
“I don’t like being in trouble”
They made the perilous journey from El Salvador across state lines but were returned by immigration control in Mexico, just short of the US border.
“I was really scared,’ Jennifer tells me of the moment they were stopped. ‘I don’t like being in trouble’.
It’s only comments like these that make me remember that she is only 13 years old. She appears much older, and she has certainly seen more than I could even have imagined at her age.
Worried about her future
“They are after my family. Only us. I am scared they are going to come into my house and hurt me. I’m worried they will rape me. That’s the signature of this gang.”
No 13 year old girl should live with the day-to-day terror that she may be raped and murdered in her own home.
This is the reality that Jennifer has been returned to – and unfortunately, she is not the only one. The number of children trying to flee Central America has more than doubled this year, with more than 18,000 being returned from Mexico and the US.
The children I met all paint a bleak picture of hopes for the future shattered by violence and the fear of more violence.
Wishes for 2015
So what will Jennifer wish for this year? ‘My only hope is to keep on studying. That is the only thing I can do’.
We are not doing enough to protect children like Jennifer in their home countries. When people cannot hope for a better future, they will continue to risk life and limb to flee their country.
The New Year is a time for new resolutions: we must work harder to address the brutal circumstances that are threatening so many childhoods and forcing so many to run.
*Name changed to protect identity