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Protecting the rights of young migrants

Noraida from the Philippines dropped out of school before she was eight years old. At 13, she migrated abroad and became a domestic worker. Well treated by her employers, she would even travel home on holiday and provided much-needed financial support to her family.

She was not so lucky with her third employer. She worked day and night, but nothing seemed to please the lady of the house. Exploited and physically abused, Noraida eventually managed to escape to her home country – bruised and empty-handed.

Filipino migrant workers are reunited with their families following conflict in Lebanon in 2006. © IOM Photo/Angelo JacintoThe story of Noraida was retold by the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, Purnima Mane, at a symposium on “Migration and Youth: Harnessing Opportunities for Development”, held recently at the United Nations in New York.  Migrant children who work are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, particularly as they are likely to be in an irregular situation in the country of employment, she explained. Participants in the symposium noted that protection of human rights was a prerequisite for the successful integration of young migrants.

An ever-growing number of young people are crossing national borders. Their motivation is an often complex mixture of the need for protection and the desire for opportunity due to unemployment, conflict and economic hardship. This increase in migration by young people has been fostered by the global explosion in communication technologies.

The United Nations estimates that 214 million people – three per cent of the world’s population – are now living outside their countries of origin. About 35 million of these are between the ages of 10 and 24.

A study released by the United Nations Human Rights office last September found that the migration of children is usually considered within the framework of the migration of adults, with the effect that the distinct vulnerabilities of children are disregarded by national migration laws. However, as pointed out at the symposium, migrant children have special needs and status.  “International law provides that all children affected by migration should be seen and protected as children first and foremost, rather than letting their migratory or other status, or indeed that of their parents, dictate their access to protection,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović.

“Young people have a higher propensity to take risks, migrate and adapt. Unfortunately, they are also more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” said the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Joseph Deiss.

“Irregular migrant children and youth can be prevented from gaining effective access to health care, including because of high costs or because they are reluctant to access health services due to fear of detection or deportation,” observed Šimonović. “Migrant children and their families can often be found living in substandard housing, whether because they cannot pay high rents, their legal status prevents them from renting legally or because they have joined diaspora communities that live in run-down and spatially segregated parts of the city.”

“Migrants in irregular situations are more vulnerable to abuse of their fundamental human rights, often being denied even the most basic labour protections, due process guarantees, personal security and access to health services,” said UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake on behalf of the Global Migration Group, a collection of 14 UN entities, the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration. This Group organized the symposium which was followed by a General Assembly informal thematic debate on international migration and development. The General Assembly discussion focused on, among other things, how to safeguard the human rights of all migrants, and ensure their full social and economic integration in host countries.

20 May 2011