Second Major



Hughes, Donna

Advisor Department

Sociology and Anthropology




El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras; Mexico; Child migration; UAC; Violence against children; Criminal violence


In the past four years, there has been a significant increase in apprehensions of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras at the Southwest Border of the United States: an estimated 207,000 since 2013. This paper researches the sexual and physical abuse the minors (aged 5 to 17) are subjected to while in their home country, on their journey north and upon arrival at the United States border. Data was collected through a literature review of federal investigations of human trafficking in Central America, Mexico, and Texas, along with federal publications on border apprehensions and unaccompanied minors. United Nations and other non-governmental publications regarding human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and northern migration into the United States were used as well. The findings were cross-referenced with articles from news sources that detail the violence against Central American migrants as they travel north through Mexico.

The literature review shows many overlapping systems of violence against unaccompanied minors. The findings show: 1) northern migration is caused by children fleeing gang violence in their home countries; 2) transnational gangs operating throughout Mexico abuse child migrants in many ways; and 3) cross-border alien smuggling gangs work in conjunction with human/sex trafficking operations between Mexico and Texas. The origin countries of the child migrant population examined in this research-El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras-have higher rates of criminal violence and homicides than any other region in the world. The lack of financial resources and external protection children have while migrating through Mexico leave them highly vulnerable to abuse such as muggings, kidnappings, sexual and physical abuse, prostitution, and forced recruitment into criminal activity by criminal groups, human traffickers, smugglers, and even local Mexican officials. Upon arrival at the United States border, child migrants are at risk for kidnappings by alien smuggling organizations, which hold migrants against their will in stash houses and work closely with Mexican cartels. This research shows the substantial amount of sexual and physical violence against unaccompanied alien children during their particularly vulnerable status as migrants.