Vulnerability of unaccompanied and separated child migrants

26-04-2021

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has estimated that the number of migrant children increased from 24 million during the 1990–2000 period to 33 million in 2019. In 2019 alone, some 33 200 children arrived in southern European countries, of which some 9 000 (27 %) were unaccompanied or separated from family member(s) on the journey. There are various reasons why a child may be unaccompanied or get separated, including persecution of the child or the parents; international conflict and civil war; human trafficking and smuggling, including sale by parents; accidental separation from the parents over the course of their journey; and searching for better economic opportunities. Despite the existence of a comprehensive international legal framework on children's rights and their protection, irregular migrant children, especially those who are unaccompanied or who have been separated from their parents over their journey, face numerous obstacles and challenges during and after the migration process. Several international and European organisations have identified a number of protection gaps in the treatment of such children, including that they face greater risks of, inter alia, sexual exploitation and abuse, military recruitment, child labour (including for foster families) and detention. In many countries, they are routinely denied entry or detained by border or immigration officials. In other cases, they are admitted but are denied access to asylum procedures, or their asylum claims are not handled in an age and gender-sensitive manner. The vulnerable situation of unaccompanied and separated children worldwide, and the threats they face need to be addressed, particularly in view of the constant increase in their number. European Union asylum law offers special protection to such children, and the European Union has adopted numerous instruments and identified key actions for the protection of all children in migration, including those who are unaccompanied and separated. This briefing is an update of a 2016 briefing by Joanna Apap.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has estimated that the number of migrant children increased from 24 million during the 1990–2000 period to 33 million in 2019. In 2019 alone, some 33 200 children arrived in southern European countries, of which some 9 000 (27 %) were unaccompanied or separated from family member(s) on the journey. There are various reasons why a child may be unaccompanied or get separated, including persecution of the child or the parents; international conflict and civil war; human trafficking and smuggling, including sale by parents; accidental separation from the parents over the course of their journey; and searching for better economic opportunities. Despite the existence of a comprehensive international legal framework on children's rights and their protection, irregular migrant children, especially those who are unaccompanied or who have been separated from their parents over their journey, face numerous obstacles and challenges during and after the migration process. Several international and European organisations have identified a number of protection gaps in the treatment of such children, including that they face greater risks of, inter alia, sexual exploitation and abuse, military recruitment, child labour (including for foster families) and detention. In many countries, they are routinely denied entry or detained by border or immigration officials. In other cases, they are admitted but are denied access to asylum procedures, or their asylum claims are not handled in an age and gender-sensitive manner. The vulnerable situation of unaccompanied and separated children worldwide, and the threats they face need to be addressed, particularly in view of the constant increase in their number. European Union asylum law offers special protection to such children, and the European Union has adopted numerous instruments and identified key actions for the protection of all children in migration, including those who are unaccompanied and separated. This briefing is an update of a 2016 briefing by Joanna Apap.