A growing number of children and young people worldwide are migrating in search of a better life. In 2019, 33 million migrants were under 18. They decide to leave for various reasons – from job prospects, to joining loved ones, to ensuring their own safety. Despite its pervasiveness, legal restrictions often deny people safe ways of migrating.
In the Horn of Africa, migration has long been a key coping strategy. Recently however, migration has been framed in terms of risk rather than opportunity. UNICEF’s new research captures the experiences of 1,290 migrant children and young people in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia to help paint a more accurate picture of migration in the region. This will in turn help ensure that they are better protected and supported.
Migration has both positive and negative impacts on well-being. The complexity of migration therefore requires a multi-dimensional, adaptive, and participatory approach to understanding and responding to the needs of children and young people who move. Those interviewed understood the risks involved but did not necessarily see migration as negative or dangerous. Instead, they often see it as the best choice available to them. Key findings from this research can be grouped into three main areas:
The complexity of migration needs to be better understood
Children and young people decide and define their own migration story. While there are many official legal categories of migration, the diverse motivations and trajectories of children and young people moving within the Horn of Africa often blur the lines between them. By its very nature, migration is dynamic, fluid, and often cyclical. Narrow definitions may impede an adaptive approach to programmes and policy, thus underserving the needs of children and young people on the move.
A more nuanced approach is needed to safeguard children on the move
The migration journey brings with it both opportunities and risks, both of which must be considered for migration responses. Legal barriers and a lack of trust in authorities often resort in children and young people using unsafe routes, like smugglers, to reach their destination. The risks vary based on gender – while more girls felt scared, more boys reported having been physically hurt and detained. Despite these risks, the majority of those we interviewed felt their life would be worse if they had not left their homes.
Services are often missing, unaffordable or inaccessible
By the nature of their movement, children and young people are less familiar with the services that might be available. Those that do exist are often under-resourced to handle the demand. Common barriers to services include cost, location, language, and lack of identity documentation. Respondents felt they were lacking education and job supports the most – the services that could give them the skills and means to improve their lives in the long-term.
Check back soon for detailed country reports from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan.
Policies need to embrace a child-centered understanding of migration
Engaging with and including children’s experiences is crucial to better understanding their vulnerabilities and decision-making strategies, which in turn can lead to better policymaking and investments. This includes considering multiple dimensions of vulnerability, such as gender and age, as well as improving opportunities and supporting environments for children and young people who wish to stay or return in their home communities, and those who move.
Ensure effective protection for all children who move
Children have the right to be protected, irrespective of their reasons for migrating. Practices like child detention, separation from parents, and forced returns policies should stop immediately. Priority should be given to facilitating documentation, properly assessing children’s best interests, and increasing trusted child protection services (such as social workers) for all children irrespective of their migration status.
Integrate multi-sectoral approaches to properly protect children on the move
The research highlights the need to give children access to basic services like, clean water, money for daily living, communication and documentation as well as education, counselling and employment services. These services need to be integrated into national child protection systems to prevent distinctions between migrant and non-migrant children while being sensitive to migrant children’s specific needs. Properly investing in and linking these services results in more sustainable and durable solutions that should be accessible also to children and young people who do not want to move onward or have no prospect to return home.
Partnering with Youth to Research the Challenges Facing Young People in the Horn of Africa
Hargeisa city is a fast-growing urban environment that remains safe, unlike many parts of the region. Yet young people living in the city face a myriad of challenges. Unemployment is high amongst youth, and poverty is widespread.
Maryama is just 17 years old, but already she has attempted to migrate from Hargeisa in the Horn of Africa to Europe twice. While most migrants face harrowing journeys, her story can help us understand some of the additional challenges facing young women and girls on the move in the Horn of Africa.
Amoun Aden Ismail is a youth and women’s empowerment activist. She shares with us her biggest learning from her experience as a Research Assistant for UNICEF’s study on Children on the Move in the Horn of Africa.
Children on the move in East Africa: Research insights to mitigate COVID-19
Migration is a core coping strategy for many children and young people across the globe, whether on their own or with their families. The protection of migrant children needs to be a central component of the COVID-19 response.
Children’s voices critical for effective migration response
(13 April 2021) A new study highlights the importance of reframing the experience of children and young people based on their own motivations and lived experiences in order to adequately protect their rights. UNICEF Innocenti’s new report Reimagining Migration Responses: Learning from children and young people who move in the Horn of Africa captures the experiences of 1,290 migrant children and young people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan in an effort to paint a more accurate picture of migration in the region.