CONNECT
search advanced search
UNICEF Innocenti
Office of Research-Innocenti
search menu

Children and migration: rights, advocacy and resilience

Children and migration: rights, advocacy and resilience

Children cross borders – within and between countries – in varying circumstances and for different reasons, both voluntary and involuntary. Economic, socio-political and environmental factors can influence children and their parents’ decision to migrate. Poverty has also been a key driver of child migration, particularly from rural to urban locations, but it’s becoming clearer that the poorest cannot so easily migrate to another country. Children are also trafficked to provide labour or are forced to move because of political violence or environmental disasters.

Although domestic migration of children occurs frequently, it is often incorrectly perceived as an everyday phenomenon. International migration of children is now more visible, and because of conflict-induced migration, it is understood as distinct and traumatic. Mobility pathways deeply impact on a child’s development and we need to gain better understanding of their  migration patterns.

While vast amounts of data now exist chronicling the lives of migrants, we have less understanding of the movement of young people. Child-sensitive research in this area is essential and can explain intricate dynamics not captured by more general research. Historically, receiving, transit and origin societies have been more tolerant of the migration of children and youth. Some have an exploitative interest in child migrants and others recognize that the international community must commit to protecting child migrants.

Our new programme builds on Innocenti’s existing expertise and UNICEF’s work on the ground with children in the areas of protection, justice, violence prevention and well-being.

Publications

“No Mother Wants Her Child to Migrate” Vulnerability of Children on the Move in the Horn of Africa
Publication Publication

“No Mother Wants Her Child to Migrate” Vulnerability of Children on the Move in the Horn of Africa

Children are moving on an enormous scale in the Horn of Africa. The report highlights how children’s movement is driven by different motivations, exposes children to different forms of harm, and presents multiple barriers to accessing services. As elsewhere in the world, many people in the Horn of Africa are forced or pushed to move by unaddressed vulnerabilities, including poverty, persecution, disruption of their families or exposure to human rights abuses. Once they move, vulnerabilities can be exacerbated by the disruption of social structures and coping mechanisms that would otherwise have a protective effect. Being on the move can disrupt access to services as individuals may be unaware of where to turn in a new location and service providers may, in turn, have difficulty accessing them. These dangers become acute for children, especially those travelling without families. This report is the first in a series of studies in the Horn of Africa aimed at building knowledge to improve Unicef’s programmes which support children on the move. This first qualitative study provides a better understanding of the experiences of these children. It draws on 282 individual interviews and focus group discussions with children and parents on the move, including internally displaced persons, refugees, migrants and returnees. Within each group, the researchers examined why children move and the problems they face when they do. The researchers also examined what structures exist to protect children and whether they are effectively reaching children on the move and responding to the threats these children face. The report also provides recommendations for strengthening child protection systems on the ground.
2018 Results Report
Publication Publication

2018 Results Report

In 2018, significant gains were made in generating evidence to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged children, build organizational capacity to conduct and use quality, ethical research on children, and set a foundation as an important convening centre for expert consultation on next-generation ideas on children. 2018 marks the first year the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti is reporting on the progress of research under the new UNICEF Strategic Plan (2018-2021). This plan is the first to clearly delineate the role of research and evidence as one of the eight priority change strategies for children. This report therefore is an account of the first year of work to generate critical evidence to inform programmes, policies and advocacy for children and young people around the world
Child-related Concerns and Migration Decisions: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll
Publication Publication

Child-related Concerns and Migration Decisions: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll

Current times are characterized by unprecedented migration levels: millions of people are on the move worldwide. Thus, understanding why people decide to migrate is a major goal of policymakers and international organizations, and migration has become a prominent issue on the global research agenda. Traditional migration drivers can be divided into reasons to leave (‘push’ factors) and reasons to migrate (‘pull’ factors), and include income deprivation, dissatisfaction with public services and institutions in the home country, conflict and war, climate change, and social networks abroad. In this paper, we focus our attention on children’s well-being as a potential migration driver. We investigate it by using the Gallup World Poll, a repeated cross-section dataset of a survey conducted in more than 150 countries from 2006 to 2016. We estimate the association between planned and intended migration and children’s perceived well-being using logit models with standardized coefficients, robust standard errors, and year and country fixed effects. Estimates reveal a positive and statistically significant association between child-related concerns, migration intent and plans. In particular, the probability of individuals having migration intent and plans increases where they report lower levels of satisfaction with child-related issues, as measured by the Youth Development Index, an index driven by indicators of respect for children and satisfaction with the education system. Moreover, children’s well-being affects more individuals living in households with children than those without. Finally, migration is a child- and youth-related phenomenon: young individuals would like to migrate, and plan to do so, more than older individuals.

Journal Articles

Gender Justice and (In)security in Pakistan and Afghanistan
Journal Article Journal Article

Gender Justice and (In)security in Pakistan and Afghanistan

This article argues that gender justice becomes a politicised issue in counterproductive ways in conflict zones. Despite claims of following democratic principles, cultural norms have often taken precedence over ensuring gender-sensitive security practices on the ground. The rightness of the ‘war on terror’ justified by evoking fear and enforced through colonial methods of surveillance, torture, and repression in counter-terrorism measures, reproduces colonial strategies of governance. In the current context, the postcolonial sovereign state with its colonial memories and structures of violence attempts to control women’s identities. This article analyses some of these debates within the context of Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s security dynamics. It begins with the premise that a deliberate focus on the exclusion and limitation of women in Muslim and traditional societies sustains and reinforces the stereotypes of women as silent and silenced actors only. However, while the control of women within and beyond the nexus of patriarchal family'society'state is central to extremist ideologies and institutionalisation practices, women’s vulnerabilities and insecurities increase in times of conflict not only because of the action of religious forces, but also because of ‘progressive’, ‘secular’, ‘humanitarian’ interventions.

News & Commentary

Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation
Article Article

Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation

(17 May 2017) The global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has reached a record high, increasing nearly five-fold since 2010, UNICEF said today in a new report. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011.‘A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation’ presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way. The report shows that an increasing number of these children are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death. “One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”[Visit Research Watch: Children on the Move for current evidence and knowledge discussion on migrant and refugee children] The report includes the story of Mary, a 17-year-old unaccompanied minor from Nigeria, who experienced the trauma of being trafficked firsthand during her horrific journey through Libya to Italy. When describing the smuggler turned trafficker who offered to help her, she said, “Everything (he) said, that we would be treated well, and that we would be safe, it was all wrong. It was a lie.” Mary was trapped in Libya for more than three months where she was abused. “He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.”Additional key findings from the report include:200,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum across around 80 countries in 2015-2016.100,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2015-2016.170,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in Europe in 2015-2016.Unaccompanied and separated children accounted for 92 per cent of all children arriving to Italy by sea in 2016 and the first months of 2017.Children account for approximately 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally.Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims at 64 and 62 per cent respectively.As much as 20 per cent of smugglers have links to human trafficking networks.Ahead of the G7 Summit in Italy, UNICEF is calling on governments to adopt its six-point agenda for action to protect refugee and migrant children and ensure their wellbeing. “These children need a real commitment from governments around the world to ensure their safety throughout their journeys,” said Forsyth. “Leaders gathering next week at the G7 should lead this effort by being the first to commit to our six-point agenda for action.”The UNICEF agenda for action includes:Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives; Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status; Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination. UNICEF is also urging the public to stand in solidarity with children uprooted by war, violence and poverty, by supporting the six-point agenda for action. 
Children and youth face abuse, exploitation on Mediterranean migration routes – UNICEF, IOM
Article Article

Children and youth face abuse, exploitation on Mediterranean migration routes – UNICEF, IOM

(13 September 2017) Migrant and refugee children and youth trying to reach Europe face appalling levels of human rights abuses, with 77 per cent of those traveling along the Central Mediterranean route reporting direct experiences of abuse, exploitation, and practices which may amount to human trafficking – UNICEF and IOM, the UN Migration Agency, said today in a new report. (Download at right)Harrowing Journeys shows that while all migrants and refugees are at high risk, children and youth on the move are far more likely to experience exploitation and trafficking than adults aged 25 years and above: nearly twice as likely on the Eastern Mediterranean route and at a rate 13 per cent higher on the Central Mediterranean route.Aimamo, a 16-year-old unaccompanied child from the Gambia interviewed at a shelter in Italy described being forced into months of grueling manual labor by traffickers upon his arrival in Libya. “If you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside.”The report is based on the testimonies of some 22,000 migrants and refugees, including some 11,000 children and youth, interviewed by IOM.“The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe. “EU leaders should put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children.”[Explore our Children on the Move edition of Research Watch where global experts discuss evidence gaps on refugee and migrant children]“For people who leave their countries to escape violence, instability or poverty, the factors pushing them to migrate are severe and they make perilous journeys knowing that they may be forced to pay with their dignity, their wellbeing or even their lives,” said Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM’s Regional Director for the EU, Norway and Switzerland.“Without the establishment of more regular migration pathways, other measures will be relatively ineffective. We must also re-invigorate a rights-based approach to migration, improving mechanisms to identify and protect the most vulnerable throughout the migration process, regardless of their legal status.”A child sits on a mattress laid on the floor of the women's section of the Al-Nasr detention centre in Zawiya, Libya.UNICEF Innocenti is ramping up research and evidence activities on children in emergency contexts with recent creation of new streams of research on children and migration and humanitarian response. Work will focus on capturing intricate dynamics of children's experiences not captured in other research efforts.The report also shows that, while all children on the move are at high risk, those originating from sub-Saharan Africa are far more likely to experience exploitation and trafficking than those from other parts of the world: 65 per cent compared to 15 per cent along the Eastern Mediterranean route, and 83 per cent compared to 56 per cent along the Central Mediterranean route. Racism is likely a major underlying factor behind this discrepancy.Children and youth traveling alone or over longer periods, along with those possessing lower levels of education, were also found to be highly vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of traffickers and criminal groups over the course of their journeys. According to the report, the Central Mediterranean route is particularly dangerous, with most of the migrants and refugees passing through Libya which remains riven with lawlessness, militias and criminality. On average young people pay between $1,000-5,000 for the journey and often arrive in Europe in debt, which exposes them to further risks.The report calls on all concerned parties − countries of origin, transit and destination, the African Union, the European Union, international and national organizations with support from the donor community – to prioritize a series of actions.These include establishing safe and regular pathways for children on the move; strengthening services to protect migrant and refugee children whether in countries of origin, transit or destination; finding alternatives to the detention of children on the move; working across borders to combat trafficking and exploitation; and combating xenophobia, racism and discrimination against all migrants and refugees.(The original version of the article appeared on www.unicef.org)
Forced Displacement of Children in the Italian Context
Article Article

Forced Displacement of Children in the Italian Context

(6 December 2017) The plight of many unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) arriving in Italy through Central Mediterranean routes – currently the most dangerous access corridor to Europe – was recently discussed at an Innocenti Seminar “Forced Displacement of Children in the Italian Context.” The seminar showcased data, policy and media research to ignite discussion, explore linkages and consider potential future work in this area. UNICEF Innocenti conducts research on children affected by forced displacement to help explain intricate dynamics not captured by more general research.An 18 year old youth texting his family in Cote D'Ivoire at a cafe in Palermo, Sicily. Recent Data and trendsDr Alexandra Ricard-Guay, principal investigator for the EU project DemandAT researching interconnections between trafficking and smuggling of migrants, gave an overview of the legal framework and policy response on child migration and child trafficking in Italy underling knowledge  gaps and implications on the migration discourse .In her presentation, Ricard-Guay reported on the latest data available on child migration to Italy, a phenomenon which has more recently attracted the attention of politicians due to the increased numbers of children arriving by sea since 2011. “The exponential increase of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy has led to a tripling of capacity in the Italian reception system in the last 5 years. However, despite visibility there are still misbeliefs around the data and facts surrounding migrant children,” said Richard-Guay.Harrowing Journeys: Children and youth on the move across the Mediterranean Sea, at risk of trafficking and exploitation (https://data.unicef.org/resources/harrowing-journeys/) According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, the total number of unaccompanied children in Italy has doubled since 2015 reaching 18,486 in August 2017. Sicily currently hosts over 43 per cent of these children. The number of unaccompanied children dropping out of reception facilities who become untraceable is remarkable. It is estimated that in 2017 there were 5,433 untraceable children.According to a recent assessment of children on the move in Italy conducted by the REACH Initiative in collaboration with UNICEF, lack of knowledge about the asylum system, misinformation, bad conditions in the reception facilities, mistrust, are among the reasons given by children leaving the reception facilities. Nonetheless the discourse around missing children remains mostly inside a ‘trafficking frame,’ “a politically convenient narrative that divert attention from other critical causes of disappearance,” as Ricard-Guay underlined.“The Zampa law, the first comprehensive legal framework for unaccompanied children,” she continued, “represents a significant policy response toward greater protection of unaccompanied  minors, but there are persisting challenges that still require attention from the legislator”.Ricard-Guay identified gender disaggregated data as one of the topical areas that need further qualitative investigation. According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies 93 per cent of children are boys between 15-17 years old, mainly from Gambia, Nigeria, Guinea and Egypt. Girls represent around 7 per cent with Nigeria as the main country of origin (48 per cent) followed by Eritrea (14 per cent) and Somalia (6 per cent). About age, girls are slightly younger, between 7 and 14 years old.https://www.osservatorio.it/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Barretta_Forum_Migr_Peace_simn2017.pdf Media Coverage AnalysisThe narrative about migrant children as portrayed in the media was analysed by Paola Barretta and Giuseppe Milazzo, associate researchers at the Osservatorio of Pavia, the main data source on media monitoring for UNHCR Italy. Milazzo’s research shows that news on migrants is mainly associated with crimes and safety (24 per cent) and terrorism (6 per cent), and that despite a drop in news coverage of migration issues since 2015 community fear towards migrants grew reaching 46 per cent of interviewees in a September 2017 poll.According to Milazzo, children are quite invisible in media coverage.of migration issues but are sometimes used as symbols to generate empathy. Only 3 per cent of all news on migration covers child migrants.“Although the frames of the news regarding child migrants are in general positive” concluded Milazzo” there are 4 alarming instances that are becoming recurrent and need further investigation. Those include age, [i.e.] child migrants are not children; school, [i.e]. child migrants are invading our schools; costs, [i.e.] child migrants represent a huge cost; and crime, [i.e.] child migrants are a threat to our personal safety”.Critical role of foster families and guardiansIolanda Genovese, Innocenti research officer – migration programme, drew on her experience  working for Accoglierete, a non-government association of volunteer guardians in Siracusa, and revealed the importance of civil society response to institutional gaps in putting protection and integration policy into practice. She highlighted challenges of a child turning 18 and transitioning from a supported to unsupported status in a day, and how crucial it is to empower and accompany him through adulthood.She underlined how local engagement can lead to attitudinal change in people perceptions about the migration phenomenon, from a mass-media driven negative perception towards a narratives that looks at the human before the “migrant”. The seminar was jointly organised by Dr Bina D’Costa, Migration programme, Dr Emanuela Bianchera, Knowledge Management and Dr. Patrizia Faustini, Communications. For further information go to the Children and Migration research page. 

Project team

Ramya Subrahmanian

UNICEF Innocenti

Iolanda Genovese

UNICEF Innocenti

Videos

Research watch

Children on the move

Topics

Migration

Conference and meetings

Annual Meeting Human Rights, Migration and Global Governance (ACUNS)

ASEM Seminar Human Rights and Children

Second Global Meeting on Children on the move

The Migration-Deportation Nexus

Blogs

30.6 million new internal displacements in 2017, children are among the most vulnerable

How voluntary guardianship for unaccompanied minors took root in Sicily

Children and Migration Decision: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll

Migration, hate speech and media ethics

Why research should be a priority in the global response to the child migration crisis

Migrant and refugee children face higher rates of bullying

Podcasts

Protected on Paper? An analysis of Nordic country responses to asylum-seeking children

Bina D'Costa on migrant and refugee children and the role of research

Commentaries

Syrian refugees and child marriage

Life (and death) of Rohingya children - No place to hide

Asia’s Child Migrants

Related Innocenti publications

Economic Transfers and Social Cohesion in a refugee hosting setting

No Lost Generation - cash transfer program for Syrian Refugees

What's new

Forced Displacement of Children in the Italian Context

Knowledge pages

Children and Migration

Related external links

Economic Transfers and Social Cohesion in a refugee hosting setting

External website

Children Uprooted campaign

UNICEF Agenda for Action for Children on the move