Forced migration is a global public health issue impacting millions of children and families each year. The need to escape violence, deprivation, and in some cases persecution, drives entire populations to abandon their homes and their lives in search of safety.
Traveling alone or with others, children and youth face an increased risk of sexual and physical violence, as well as exploitation and trafficking before, during, and after their migration journeys.
Beyond the vulnerability experienced by migrant adults, children on the run bear additional risks related to their young age, need to rely upon others for survival, lack of resources, and vulnerability to manipulation by adults who wish to exploit them.
If they become separated from caregivers, they may lack identification documents, communication devices, and access to food, placing them at even greater risk of exploitation and trafficking. These risks may continue once the destination is reached, as abuse and violence may occur in refugee camps, detention centers, or even private homes. Traffickers and exploiters may take advantage of a child’s or family’s desperate need to find work and housing.
The ongoing tragic crisis in Ukraine has galvanized people from around the world to seek ways of supporting displaced children and families. The Ukrainian crisis is one of multiple mass migrations occurring within the past 25 years, with children and families from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria, and many other countries confronting similar dangers as they flee their homes and attempt to reach safety.
As reports circulate around the world and organizations on the ground mobilize to create evacuation routes and migrant reception centers, it is imperative to remember that throughout all the conflict and political turmoil, children need our special attention and care.
We must take steps to ensure that basic child rights are protected, such as the right to safety, family, dignity, and freedom from abuse, exploitation, and other forms of violence. Individuals, organizations, and states must prioritize the needs of children, and make every effort to reunite families and meet the health, mental health, and social needs of young people.
ICMEC aims to encourage cross-sector, cross-industry collaboration and engagement; promote ongoing training and education of healthcare professionals, educators, border personnel, and other key stakeholders; and encourage the provision of safe spaces for children regardless of their migrant status to ensure their basic rights are being upheld.
With the proper resources, partnerships, and tools in place, migrant children will have a better chance of living healthier and safer lives
We have released two resources to address these issues:
- Protecting Children on the Move: Understanding and Addressing the Risks of Abuse, Exploitation, and Going Missing during Migration — This report draws attention to the vulnerabilities of children in all stages of migration, will highlight children as a global priority for the attention and protection of governments and organizations around the world, and, through the recommendations provided, will offer guidance for addressing the challenges of keeping children safe during their journeys.
- Protecting Children on the Move: 15 Recommendations to Address the Risks of Abuse, Exploitation, and Going Missing — ICMEC developed actionable recommendations to assist our partners including law enforcement, policymakers, industry stakeholders, educators, and healthcare professionals around the world in the protection of children in vulnerable communities.
In 2020, there were 36 million child migrants and this number only continues to grow. While conflict rages in Ukraine, we cannot stress enough how important this moment is to shed light on the risks faced by children who are forced to migrate whether because of armed conflict, natural disaster, or any other reason.
It is imperative for countries to consider adopting, and fully enforcing, systems, strategies, and legislation that serve and protect the best interests of migrating children and youth. Such tools should place an emphasis on preventative and protective measures to mitigate the likelihood of children going missing or being exploited.