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Young and on the move in West Africa

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Introduction

This report aims to offer a better understanding of child mobility in West Africa in the context of mixed migration movements. It provides an up-to-date overview of the routes that children move along in and from the region, the reasons that children move, and risks that they face whilst on the move, with a particular focus on Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal. The report also examines the legal frameworks affecting child mobility in the region. The research entailed an extensive literature review, as well as primary data collection in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal, during which the participation of children was encouraged.

Migration patterns in West Africa are diverse and vibrant, with people moving in different directions for a variety of reasons and with various goals along the same routes. In the region, child mobility is deeply embedded within broader population movements and includes families traveling with children and/or family members seeking reunification, as well as unaccompanied and separated children traveling alone. Children on the move can be divided into many categories due to their varied profiles, reasons for leaving and goals. Indeed, even if “children on the move” has been traditionally considered as a category within mixed migration, it should also be considered a mixed category in itself.

This report is published at a time when international actors are increasingly concerned by the increase in the number of, and the risk for, children on the move arriving to Europe from African countries, and from West Africa in particular. Despite this, most of the movements that concern children in West Africa occur within the region. However, due to a lack of accurate data, the exact number of children on the move within West Africa is unknown. It remains that intra-regional and domestic movements of children are generally under-reported, the focus on children is scarce in available data (which are not, in general, age-disaggregated), and children often choose invisibility when undertaking their journeys, thereby also increasing their risk of exploitation and abuse.

The report concludes by examining the regional legal framework and highlighting that the protection of children on the move must be guaranteed through reinforced national protection systems, and through better coordination between systems at the transnational level.