by Anita Sinha, Practitioner in Residence, Immigrant Justice Clinic, American University, Washington College of Law
*This piece is cross-posted in The Huffington Post
Children have been all over the news, and for the wrong reasons. Three missing Israeli teens were found dead in the occupied West Bank, sparking the reprisal killing of a Palestinian boy who was burned alive. Reports of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children arriving into the U.S. from Central America have dominated the media as politicians and the public grapple with how we as a nation should respond.
I did not make the connection between the two sets of tragedies until I read a short piece entitled "The New Way of War: Killing the Kids." The notion that children are increasingly not only collateral casualties but also targets of war was amongst the findings in the annual report, "Children and Armed Conflict," recently released by the United Nation. Examples provided in the U.N. report include the kidnapping of schoolchildren in Nigeria, children being used as human shields in Syria, and the killing and maiming of youth in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Central American countries from where most of the recent unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. began their arduous journeys -- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala -- are not in the U.N. report. But there is ample evidence to support that many of them are in a similar situation of targeted violence. First, mainstream mediaand human rights organizations report that children from these countries are on the front lines of gang violence. Gangs are in schools and on the streets, targeting boys for recruitment and girls for "sexualized killings." A Washington Post article quoted a young boy interviewed by the Women's Refugee Commission: "In El Salvador, there is a wrong -- it is being young... It is better to be old."