Two epidemiological generalizations have emerged consistently from the plethora of analysis about the impact of COVID-19. First, children are less at risk of infection than adults, particularly older adults.2 Second, vulnerable populations, including those experiencing socioeconomic hardship, racial, ethnic or caste-related injustice and other forms of structural inequity, face disproportionate pandemic-related impacts.3 Millions of children, including migrant children, therefore, while relatively protected by their age, are nevertheless at heightened risk from the pandemic because of their precarious status: “What started as a public health emergency has snowballed into a formidable test for global development and for the prospects of today’s young generation.”
The impacts arising from the COVID-19 pandemic include not only infectioninduced morbidity and mortality, but also heightened exposure to other severe risks and human rights violations, including extreme poverty and related hunger, violence, exploitation, homelessness and mental illness.5 While a systematic, integrated daily global tally of COVID-19 infection rates and deaths is available, reliable information about other impacts is more elusive.6 Given that migrant children are particularly affected by these latter impacts, an assessment of the pandemic’s impact on this population and the policy implications that flow from it must rely on disparate data sources, including crowdsourced mobility data, media reports and anecdotal accounts.
The global child migrant population affected by the pandemic spans a very diverse constituency. Among them, and not covered by this report, are children accompanied by supportive and socioeconomically secure families able to protect their members from exposure to congregate settings and other pandemic risk factors, and to organize (or reorganize) their migrations through safe and legal channels. However, millions of child migrants affected by COVID-19 are highly vulnerable, whether they migrate accompanying family members or alone.8 They include children forced to flee conflict, persecution or environmental calamity. They also include children forced to leave unbearable home circumstances, whether because of destitution, lack of future prospects, familial abuse or other pressures.
The pandemic, and the strain it has placed on all public services, including those responsible for protecting vulnerable children, compounds circumstances already filled with a wide range of age-specific child-protection risks. A case in point is the risk posed by delays in immunization campaigns to administer life-saving vaccines for rubella and measles – with millions of children affected, those forcibly displaced are likely to be at particular risk.