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Community support is most important driver of Honduran youth migration according to USAID study led by CIRED

Honduran youth
The Rural Livelihoods and Violence Study examined the pathways that Honduran youth choose, with the goal of developing improved education, youth development, agriculture, gender, and violence mitigation programs.

Unemployment, poverty, and violence have driven many Honduran youth to the Mexico and U.S. borders in search of a better life. Instead of choosing careers in a risky agriculture sector – a primary livelihood for many rural Hondurans – many choose to leave their country or turn to an illicit trade. 

A recent USAID study managed by CIRED sheds light on the factors that deflect some rural Honduran youth away from agricultural livelihoods toward violence or migration.

Rebecca Williams from the University of Florida was the study’s principal investigator. She surveyed 4,528 Honduran youth and 676 households during the past year to better understand the relationship between changing rural livelihoods, perceptions of livelihood opportunities, and pathways into violence and migration. 

Williams noted, “Farming is an inherently risky way to make a living, given the risks such as weather, pests, commodity prices, and competition. In Honduras, it is becoming so risky that some youth see migration or livelihoods of violence as better alternatives. Understanding the pathways that youth choose and why is necessary to developing approaches that help them improve their lives.” 

Low community support was one the strongest predictors driving youth to consider migration. The household survey showed that 41% of participants perceived low community support of youth, a result that was echoed in the school survey of students. Many youth feel that they are not valued or a part of community decisions, which results in fewer social bonds that protect against delinquent behavior.

Other key findings included:

  • Adults and youth were concerned about the viability and sustainability of farming due to impacts of climate change. While the perceived impacts of climate change varied by community (e.g., storms versus droughts versus newly arrived pests), there was a consensus about its strong negative impacts on livelihoods.
  • Poor employment opportunities for high school graduates and a pervasive apprehension by teachers and administrators that young male students could be gang members are two of the few factors pushing male youth towards agricultural livelihoods. Young men do not feel that education will result in employment, which drives them to wage agricultural labor in the short term rather than spend time in a school where they feel unwanted. Youth who abandon or are abandoned by the school system have very few opportunities to increase their income. Some turn towards illicit activity (i.e., drugs or gangs) or migration.
  • Among youth who finish secondary school, many do not believe education will lead to a better life. 
  • Students who were food insecure were significantly more likely to view illicit livelihoods as a survival pathway than youth who were more food secure. The study also showed that residents see narcotraffickers investing in rural community development.
  • When individuals are victims of violence, they have weaker connections to family, making participation in delinquency and violence more acceptable. 

The study results are expected to inform the design of development programs and intervention strategies for youth.