Children on the Run - Stories
More than 400 children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador shared their stories with UNHCR to produce this report. Here's what they told us, in their own words.
Girl, 17, Honduras
My uncle was killed one week before I left. In the colonia where we lived, a mara is in charge. The "mara" extort all the bus drivers who live in the area. My uncle was a bus driver. They went to the bus station and killed him. I was two blocks away when this happened, waiting for a taxi. I heard everything happen, all the gun shots. After they killed him, the gang members came and told me that they knew I was his niece and that I was in danger. My entire family had to leave after the colonia because we were in danger. I didn't plan on leaving for the United States until this happened.
Girl, 12, Honduras
In the place that I lived, it's like an aldea, and there were a ton of "mareros". All they did was bad things, kidnapping people. My mom and grandmother were afraid that something would happen to me, so that's why my mom brought me here. They rape girls and they end up pregnant. There were five girls that the gang members got pregnant, others that their families never heard from them again. There was a lot of security in my school, and I only had to walk two minutes. Even then, either one of my uncles or male cousins would accompany me to school. I was afraid that if I wasn't careful they would grab me and who knows what would happen.
Boy, 16, Honduras
Last year the gang members told everyone in my colonia that the gang was in control and everyone had to get out. My entire family left because they knew it was dangerous. They try to make boys join the gang. It's dangerous for girls, too. My sister is 19. Even if they don't make girls join, they will make girls be with them by force.
Boy, 16, Honduras
I live in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Honduras. The gangs in my neighborhood wanted me to join their gang. They told me they would give me money, drugs, weapons, women, and power. They wanted me to defend my neighborhood from the rival gang as a gang member. They were from MS-13. I didn't want to hurt people or steal things, so I told my mom I wanted to come. When I was deported from Canada, I was in my neighborhood and some of the MS-13 guys saw me and thought I belonged to the rival gang because they didn't recognize me. They tried to kill me. They beat me with the butt of a rifle and tried to shoot me. I escaped, but I had to hide in my house for a couple months until I was able to come to the United States.
Boy, 17, El Salvador
I left because I had problems with the gangs. They wanted me to join them, and they said if I didn't that they would kill me. They bothered me on the way to and from school because they hung out by a field that I had to pass to get to school. Police won't go there because they are afraid of the gangs too. … If you say you don't want to join, they force you. I have many friends who were killed or disappeared if they refuse to join the gang. I told the gang I didn't want to. Their life is only death and jail, and I didn't want that for myself. I want a future. I want to continue studying and to have a career. That isn't possible when you're in the gang. I didn't want that for my family either. I didn't want my mother to suffer the way that mothers of gang members suffer. My friends who were in the gang were pushing me to join. You can't stop being friends with them even though they are pushing you to join the gang. It's dangerous to be their friend, yes. But, if you're not their friend, you're their enemy. And that's dangerous, too. The more they saw me refusing to join, the more they started threatening me and telling me they would kill me if I didn't. … They beat me up five times for refusing to help them. I didn't like when they beat me because the pain was so bad that I couldn't even stand up. They killed a friend of mine in March because he didn't want to join. They didn't find his body until May. This made me want to leave even more.