Header image for news printout

Separating children from undocumented migrant parents is shocking, inhumane and has dire effects on the children

NEW YORK (19 October 2018) - UN independent human rights experts have said that treating irregular migrants as criminals is not only detrimental to the well-being of the migrants, but also fuels intolerance and xenophobia.

In a joint statement issued today, the experts said that separating children from their undocumented parents has traumatic effects on the children and is a violation of their human rights.

“Addressing irregular migration through harsh border control measures and criminalizing irregular migrants is disproportionate to migration governance, contributes to rising intolerance and xenophobia, and the social exclusion of migrants,” stated the Chair of Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers (CMW), Mr. Ahmadou Tall.

The irregular entry and stay of migrants are not crimes against persons, property or national security and States should decriminalize such infractions, he added.

“The policy of some governments to separate children from their parents solely based on their immigration status and as a deterrent to irregular migration is both shocking and violates the human rights of the children with long-lasting effects on the health of the child,” stated the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Ms. Renate Winter.  

The trauma caused by such separation has lifelong effects.  “Families leaving their countries of origin usually have already endured high levels of trauma and stress which is only exacerbated when governments inhumanely separate families without undertaking proper assessments to ensure that any action taken is always in the best interest of the child,” she said.  

The separation of children from their parents poses particular risks to girls who may be exposed to gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse, including trafficking, in the absence of family protection.

“It is unthinkable that women as mothers should be subjected to this excruciating ordeal of being separated from their children, particularly girls, who may fall prey to serious human rights violations”, said Ms. Dalia Leinarte, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

States’ legitimate interests in securing their borders and exercising immigration control cannot undermine their obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all persons in all areas under their jurisdiction, regardless of their migration status, the UN human rights experts said.  

All migrants require individual screening and assessment procedures so that their specific situations of vulnerability are effectively identified and that legal protection frameworks that meet their needs may be determined.

“Failure to provide such procedures constitute a violation of due process guarantees and the international principle of non-refoulement and the best interests of the child, among others,” stated the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. Felipe González Morales.  “States have a duty to provide all migrants with access to justice to obtain redress for any discriminatory treatment or human rights violations that they experience,” he added.

The human rights experts said they were equally concerned about migrants in detention, where they can face violence, deplorable conditions including overcrowding and poor sanitary facilities, and inadequate psychosocial and medical care.  

“We call on States to take measures to cease the detention of migrants based upon their migration status and to seek alternatives to detention.  Children should never be detained based on their migratory status or that of this parents as this is a clear violation of a child’s rights,” underscored Ms. Renate Winter. All children caught up in the global migration crisis should be treated as children first and foremost, regardless of their nationality or migration status, or that of their parents, CRC and CMW stated in their authoritative guidance on the human rights of children in the context of international migration.

States should fully cooperate to address the root cause of irregular migration as well as increase the availability of accessible, regular, safe and affordable pathways for migration,  stated  Mr Ahmadou Tall.

In cases of return, States must not only guarantee individual assessments and due process, but must also work with States of origin to ensure a human rights-centered and sustainable reintegration of migrants in their communities, emphasized Mr. Felipe González Morales.

In the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration, States will benefit from hearing the voices of migrants themselves to ensure that the rights and specific needs of all migrants, including children, at all stages of migration are fully respected and protected, the experts said.


Members of the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants

Concerned about the world we live in? Then STAND UP for someone’s rights today.  #Standup4humanrights and visit the web page

For more information and media requests please contact Julia Gronnevet +41 (0) 22 917 9310 jgronnevet@ohchr.org

Tag and share - Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights