Almost 26,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the US border in the first six months of 2016, according to a new report by the UN children's agency, UNICEF.
The report, released on Tuesday, said that minors, and an additional 29,700 people - mostly mothers and their children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras - were also apprehended by US Customs and Border Protection.
There was no detailed data on the average age of an unaccompanied minor apprehended at the US border, however.
Citing Pew research from October 2013 - May 2014, Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that 785 under the age of five were among the unaccompanied children detained by US border authorities.
| Child migrants face uncertain future in US
By the end of July, an additional 5,068 unaccompanied minors had been apprehended, a pattern that authorities indicated in an online report for the period was "generally in line" with what they had observed in previous years.
While some of those detained are deported via expedited procedures, some women and children have spent weeks, even months, in detention.
The unaccompanied minors, says the report, are especially vulnerable as they could take years before their cases are called before the over-burdened immigration courts.
"We have to look at two levels - the policy level, the global commitment of the US, and the reality on the ground."
"First, we urge the US authorities to join with the world community in ratifying the Convention of the Rights of the Child ... the US has signed but it has not ratified this convention," said Boulierac.
Furthermore, he says the US should "prevent the detention of children on the basis of their migration status".
"We appreciate that the US has a well-established set of institutions and policies to protect migrant children, but ... we are disturbed by reports of children facing exploitation or abuse or being denied their rights".
Deportation = 'death sentence'
Most of the apprehended minors, the UNICEF report says, do not have access to court-appointed lawyers, and that about 40 percent of those children receive deportation orders.
This fate can be "a death sentence" as many of the children flee their countries to avoid being recruited or otherwise targeted by gangs.
Children and families are leaving countries with high poverty and crime rates.
In Honduras and Guatemala, roughly 60 percent of the population live below the poverty line, while El Salvador has the world’s highest murder rate.
The journey itself has high risks. According to Amnesty International, six out of ten girls and women attempting to reach the US by land experience sexual violence at some point, and, according to the rights group, "killings are frequent. Nobody knows how man migrants die on the journey".
Kidnappings are also common, as are arrests in Mexico, where 16,000 migrant children have been arrested in the first six months of 2016.
Boulierac said UNICEF is optimistic about a recently approved law to establish a "comprehensive and integral child-protection system across the country.
"The question is how to put that into reality".
Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter @dparvaz
Source: Al Jazeera