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Children and migration – protecting rights for a better future

The scale of international migration has substantially increased in recent years and become a truly global phenomenon. More than 200 million people now live outside their own country, among them the countless number of children who are affected by migration in many different ways.

A community health worker distributes food packages to Burmese migrant children at Baan Nam Khem - © IOM/Thierry Falise"The protection of children is necessary and essential at all stages of the migration process", United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants Jorge Bustamante emphasized in his 2009 report to the Human Rights Council.

The UN expert’s report focuses on children and migration, drawing attention to existing protection and policy gaps which adversely affect “children left behind”, “children on the move”, and “children in host countries”. These gaps include the lack of specific provisions on children in most migration laws, and that public policies concerning children often neglect the specific conditions and needs of migrant children.

Migrant workers often have to leave their children behind and send money home to support their families. The report said that children left behind sometimes were “obliged to take on huge tasks inappropriate to their age” and “subject to physical, psychological and sexual abuse by relatives or neighbours to whom they were entrusted during their parents’ absence.”

The Special Rapporteur also documented instances where families left behind were “weighed down by debt, exploited by moneylenders and exposed to pressure and control from relatives because of their dependency on remittances.”

Frequent human rights issues affecting children on the move include trafficking, exploitation, unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, deportation and repatriation against their best interests. Bustamante emphasized that children, regardless of their or their parents’ migration status, are entitled to their human rights.

“Irregular migration should not be criminalized and migrants, especially children, should not be detained in penitentiaries or facilities for criminal detention,” the expert said in his report.

“And they should have, inter alia, the right to legal advice, an interpreter, legal review, to have contact with the external world as well as access to education and health services.”

The Special Rapporteur also urged host countries to develop strategies to facilitate the integration of migrant children, guarantee their access to justice and basic social services, and to ensure the realization of children's rights to food, health, education and an adequate standard of living.

"Countries of origin, transit and destination alike should adopt a human rights-based approach to migration and place fundamental principles such as the best interests of the child, non-discrimination and the right of the child to be heard in all decisions that concern him or her as a primary consideration in all migration programmes and policies, including those on integration, return and family reunification", said the UN expert.

In a speech to the 11th session of the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay announced that “promoting a human-rights approach to migration” would be one of the priorities of her office in 2010-2011.

14 July 2009