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In particular, crime, gang threats, or violence appear to be the strongest determinants for children’s decision to emigrate.When asked why they left their home, 59 percent of Salvadoran boys and 61 percent of Salvadoran girls list one of those factors as a reason for their emigration.Of the 322 minors I interviewed, 145 have at least one gang in their neighborhood, and about half of these live in a contested gang territory.They report hearing gunshots nightly and are often afraid to walk even two or three blocks from their home since they fear crossing an always changing boundary.In some areas of El Salvador, however, extreme poverty is the most common reason why children decide to leave.This is particularly true for adolescent males, who hope to work half the day and study the other half in order to remit money to their families and help them move forward in life.Essentially, if their family had been in Belize, Costa Rica, or another country, they would be going there instead.When asked why they left their home, 59 percent of Salvadoran boys and 61 percent of Salvadoran girls list crime, gang threats, or violence as a reason for their emigration.
One described himself as “paralyzed with fear,” as he began crying.Four families told how their children now find numerous tasks to do around the house to excuse themselves from family outings. I never feel safe.” Then, a girl stated that she felt “trapped.” She is afraid to enter other neighborhoods, and her father explained that even if the gangs do not harm her, the police or military in their neighborhood could because they “shoot [their firearms] freely, and sometimes innocent people are killed in the crossfire.” To date, I have randomly selected at least one child’s story from each department (similar to states in the U.S.) and searched local news reports to see whether what they said could be verified.Three families told of their neighborhoods being taken over in exactly this manner over the past year.
Another 130 said they attend a school with a nearby gang presence.Most referenced fear of crime and violence as the underlying motive for their decision to reunify with family now rather than two years in the past or two years in the future.