Almost 9,700 children and adolescents have tried to cross the infamous Darien Gap in the first two months of 2023, a seven-fold increase compared to the same period in 2022, according to a UNICEF report.
The 60 kilometer (37 mile) trek north brings migrants from Colombia to Panama – a crucial passage for those hoping to reach the United States and Canada.
The UN children’s agency said that 110 of the children had attempted the dangerous hike alone. It noted that large numbers of the people on that route in the same time period were from Haiti, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Travelers trying to make it through have reported robberies, corpses, mutilations and rape in the dense forest along the route.
For children who survive the trek, UNICEF has warned of “invisible wounds.”
“Many of these kids have gone through a terrible time, they have seen things they should not have seen,” Sandie Blanchet, UNICEF’s representative in Panama, told CNN in 2021.
This week, the United States, Panama and Colombia announced a 60-day campaign to curb illegal migration through the Darien Gap, laying out plans to reduce illicit movement and opening new legal migration pathways.
“Every year, tens of thousands of migrants attempt to cross the border between Panamá and Colombia, putting their lives in the hands of smugglers, with many perishing while attempting to pass through the treacherous terrain,” officials from the three countries said in a joint statement.
The statement also acknowledged all three countries have a responsibility to prevent the risk to human life, disrupt transnational criminal organizations and preserve the rainforest.