What works to protect children on the move: Rapid Evidence Assessment (July 2020)

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Approximately 50 million children can be considered ‘on the move’. Of these approximately 13 million are child refugees, 936,000 are asylum-seeking children, and 17 million children have been forcibly displaced inside their own country (Bhabha and Abel, 2019; International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2020). Other children considered ‘on the move’ include migrants and returnees.

Children are among the most vulnerable groups of migrant and displaced populations, facing risks to their survival, health and education, and more likely to experience violence, exploitation or abuse. Children experiencing violence “often find themselves running alongside violence on their journeys, rather than leaving it behind them” (United Nations, 2019, p. 15), while those primarily displaced by other factors face new risks. In addition to their age, the very fact of being displaced – often without documentation, and unable to speak the language of their destination – combined with economic need increases vulnerability to abuse and exploitation and, often, xenophobic discrimination (ibid.). Many of these risks vary by age and gender, with boys and girls facing different levels and types of risks in terms of violence, trafficking, child labour and child marriage (United Nations, 2019), while children and adolescents with disabilities, and adolescents and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/ questioning/intersex (LGBTQI) face discrimination that overlays and intersects with these risks. Moreover, children who move on their own often lack safe and regular options to reunite with family members (UNICEF, n.d.).

The context and nature of movement affects these risks. For example, migrants in transit are exposed to sexual and gender-based violence (GBV), forced labour, extortion and exploitation, among other abuses (IOM, 2020); while economic deprivation among refugees and internally displaced people increases the likelihood of engagement in hazardous or exploitative child labour and, in some contexts, of forced and early child marriage (United Nations, 2019). Education is disrupted (sometimes for long periods of time) and affects learning outcomes of children on the move. Where emergency education services are provided, they are often of low quality (Nicolai et al., 2020) and many children never return to formal schooling (ibid.). All of these risks are likely to be amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent years, global frameworks such as UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Global Compact on Refugees, have helped develop a more supportive legal and policy environment for protecting children on the move. At the same time, evidence on what works and what does not work in protecting children on the move, and why, has not been synthesized across a range of groups (refugees, internally displaced children, migrant children, returnees, children moving with and without families, and in different settings).

To fill the evidence gap, this rapid evidence assessment (REA) aimed to answer three questions.

  • What interventions have been effective in ensuring the protection of children on the move?

  • What are the implementation factors that make these interventions effective or that hamper effectiveness (for example the context of the intervention, and specific design features such as who is targeted)?

  • What kinds of social welfare and child protection systems are linked to effective interventions?

This report provides an assessment of the reviewed literature and its key findings, and identifies gaps.

International Organization for Migration
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