Children on the move: Like adults, children often migrate in an attempt to build a better life – to escape poverty, discrimination or conflict, and to find education, employment and other opportunities. Others relocate due to an unstable or difficult family environment, such as the loss of a parent, or neglect or abuse from a caregiver. Children may migrate with or without their families, and their movements may be temporary, seasonal or permanent.
While migration can open up new opportunities for children, it can also expose them to harmful care situations, chronic poverty, violence and exploitation. During transit and at their destination, migrant children may end up in unsafe institutions, detention centres, on the streets or in overcrowded, poor-quality accommodation. Others who migrate to join households (e.g. for fostering, education, domestic work or apprenticeships) may be subjected to exploitation. Many migrant children, particularly those without documentation, end up without access to education, protection or basic services, while discrimination and language barriers make it difficult for them to reintegrate into new communities.
Children left behind. An increasing number of children around the world are also adversely affected when migrating parents leave home to seek out employment or economic opportunities (often in urban centres). While children may gain materially from remittances sent home, the absence of a parent may be detrimental to their social and psychological development. In particular, the nature and quality of children’s care relationships may suffer as they adjust to life without a loved caregiver and try to replace a physically and emotionally nurturing relationship with someone new.
Studies from around the world indicate that children left behind by migrating caretakers face education, health and psychosocial problems, including deteriorating academic performance and lower school attendance, greater risk of drug abuse, early pregnancy, involvement in criminal activities and social dysfunction. Left behind children may suffer from low self-esteem and feelings of abandonment, and in the worst cases may be vulnerable to violence, abuse and trafficking. While new or remaining caretakers can offer children a protective and caring environment they may also struggle to care for them without support, and breakdown of these relationships can sometimes result in children’s placement in harmful institutional care.
The documents in this section focus on the impact of migration on children’s care situations, and outline policy, advocacy and programmatic measures to enhance child migrants’ protection.