Migration of Unaccompanied Children

On the eve of the UN General Assembly debate on International Migration Save the Children demands that more be done to protect children who migrate alone who are extremely vulnerable to physical, sexual and labour exploitation.


Children make up a large proportion of international migration flows. Exact figures are impossible to ascertain due to the underground nature of the problem but there is little doubt that numbers are on the increase. Globally unaccompanied children make up 4 per cent of the total number of asylum seekers. This figure does not include those who have migrated undetected, either alone or by organised criminal gangs.


Daniela Reale, Exploited Children Adviser at Save the Children, expressed her deep concern, “Although migration offers a route out of poverty for some, it is fraught with danger for children. For thousands of children their illegal status and lack of parental care makes them easy prey for those looking for cheap labour or sexual workers, and as if that’s not bad enough without documentation these children are unable to access health, education or social services. This problem is hidden, nasty and growing.”


Recent Save the Children research in Mozambique found that children were crossing the border alone from Zimbabwe in search of food, shelter and work. The illegal status of these children puts them at risk of labour exploitation. Children take jobs in agriculture, construction and petty trades, where they are paid less than their Mozambican peers and have no protection under labour laws. Meanwhile girls, as young as twelve, are turning to prostitution as a means of survival. These children have little or no access to an education or health services.

Save the Children calls on governments to address poverty and education in areas from where children migrate, as well as ensuring that children have access to appropriate care in destination countries. There is also an urgent need for appropriate and sensitive treatment of children when they are caught and repatriated. Proper systems need to be in place to return children safely to their families and communities instead of being dumped on the border and left to fend for themselves.

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