Preventing Irregular Child Migration in Central America (PICMCA)

by ChildFund Alliance

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In 2017, the government of Canada and three ChildFund members launched a partnership to improve the conditions that are driving unaccompanied children to flee their communities and embark on a nearly 2,500-mile dangerous journey to the U.S. border.

Voluntary migration, particularly of unaccompanied children, presents a formidable crisis throughout the world and especially from the most at-risk communities in the three Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as Nicaragua and Mexico.

All five nations are highly vulnerable to the root causes of irregular migration and have populations of children and youth at great risk of migrating. In a global survey of children and young people, more than 35% of Latino respondents said violence is the main cause of children fleeing their home country.

The Canadian government, together with ChildFund Alliance members Children Believe (formerly Christian Children’s Fund of Canada), Educo, and ChildFund International are working to address the root causes of voluntary migration of unaccompanied children in Central America through the joint project, Preventing Irregular Child Migration in Central America. The effort aims to mitigate the dangers faced by young people on the move, which include abuse, exploitation, and dehydration, by providing safe alternatives to children and youth and working to remove the conditions that drive them to leave their homes.

The $15.2 million (CAD) initiative targets 129 of the highest-risk communities in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as Nicaragua and Mexico.
Midway through the four-year initiative, ChildFund Alliance hosted a migration forum in partnership with UNICEF in December 2019 to discuss the causes of, and solutions to, irregular migration. More than 60 civil society, United Nations, and government representatives attended.

A few months later, in April 2019, ChildFund Alliance released the report, Early Learnings of PICMCA: A Promising New Approach to Preventing the Crisis of Child Migration in Central America. The report details the causes of irregular migration, the dangers faced by migrant children, and the PICMCA program’s early indicators of success.

Prevention Measures

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The project leverages prevention measures such as violence prevention training, safe spaces, skills development, stronger child protection services, and reforms to government policies and programs. It also brings together employability and prevention to provide youth with options other than migration, while empowering young people to drive improvements in their own communities.

As detailed in the report, PICMCA is making strong advances throughout the Northern Triangle. In its first two years, the project launched more than 30 new, community-based violence prevention programs and trained more than 1,600 national and municipal decision-makers, community leaders and NGO personnel in child protection and violence prevention. It also has been training children and youth with in-demand skills, establishing alternative education options for those who would otherwise drop out, and making investments in entrepreneurship, with seed funding for small businesses and mentorship programs.

To ensure the continued success of the program, project leaders from Children Believe, Educo and ChildFund International have formed partnerships with national and provincial governments, regional administrators, and nonprofit networks. The project’s leaders anticipate a quarter of a million individuals—including 130,000 children and youth—will benefit when the program concludes in early 2021.


“The Alliance supports PICMCA because it is working to mitigate the dangers faced by young people on the move, which include abuse, exploitation, and dehydration. If we provide safe alternatives to them, we can improve the lives of children and youth by removing conditions that drive them to leave their homes.”
– Meg Gardinier, Secretary General of ChildFund Alliance

“PICMCA is empowering young people to play a direct role in transforming their own communities from dangerous environments to safer, healthier places where children, youth and families can see a brighter future for themselves.”
– Patrick Canagasingham, former CEO, Children Believe

“When young people flee to other countries, we see a significant loss of human capital among those who could provide a strong boost to our own country’s economy. Our youth need measures that make them want to stay, rather than flee. PICMCA is providing them with safe options.”
– Alicia Ávila de Parada, Educo’s Country Director in El Salvador