Promoting the Best Interest of Children in Migration and Development:
A call to for governments and civil society to uphold the human rights of children affected by migration across the globe
On October 29-30 governments from at least 167 migrant sending and destination countries are expected to attend the2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development in Manila. The Asia ACTS, ILO TICW, Save the Children UK and the UNICEF joined by other local and international organisations are making this call for the governments, trade unions, migrant networks, and many other civil society organizations to recognise that migration for labour has direct impact on children left behind by their parents and that there are children among the migrants and their rights and special needs deserve to included in any discussion on migration and development alongside other pressing concerns of women and gender, labour and human rights, the climate and ecology. The lack of recognition of children in the migration and development policies and programs is keeping hundreds and thousands of children around the world at risk.
We call for cooperation and actions across all sectors to make the children affected by migration visible and their rights protected in all our policies, programmes, and actions.
The children left behind
Economic disparities among countries and the globalization of economies have resulted to the high rate of migrations across the world, particularly for labour. For a number of developing countries, labour migration is no longer a short-term-stop gap measure by governments but has actually become a key element to long term economic development strategies. Given the increasing dependency of governments on revenues from the foreign employment of their nationals instead of developing their local income opportunities at home, millions of children today grow up with a parent or both parents living and working away from home.
While there are efforts to address the problems of migrants themselves, few actions are made to support the increasing number of children left behind to cope, remain safe, and have a healthy childhood even as they grow up in this “new” type of family setting. Nor are there enough efforts to support the individual parents left behind to care for the children or to the alternative care givers like grandparents, aunts, and friends. There is a prevailing assumption that given their new financial capacities, these children and families of migrant workers are in situations that are better than the rest. But experiences show that this is not always the case and long term separation from parents without having these children supported by other able and caring adults can be detrimental for children’s development, sense of well-being, and their future. It is time to calculate the social costs of labour migration and gauge whether the economic gains do in fact compensate the costs of having generations of children growing up in these new family settings.
Children had always been a part of the migration flows across the world. Migrant children include children who move across country borders independently for work or to search for better opportunities in life, those who move with their migrant parents, those who are born in the countries of destination, and those who are trafficked across country borders. It is difficult to gauge the number of migrant children as most of them are undocumented and migrant registration procedures often exclude children and families of migrant workers. In this region, we can only cite the example of Thailand where there was an attempt to register migrant working children together with adult workers. The labour registration process in 2004 indicated that there were 96 thousand children (7%) among the 1.3 million migrant workers who registered in 2004.
While there are migrations of children that end with better situations for them, a big number of children, particularly those who are undocumented find themselves in situations of discrimination, neglect, abuse, and exploitation. They are considered by the States as violators of the immigration laws and end up deported or in jails for this violation. For those who are working and trafficked, their ‘illegal status’ is used by employers and traffickers as a tool to control them, instilling fear of being picked up by the police.
While sending countries have the responsibilities to improve the situations of their children and address the roots of risky child migration, destination countries are equally accountable to ensure that migrant children in their territories are accorded protection and their basic rights. The Committee on the Rights of the Child that monitors and guides the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has clearly stated in the General Comment No. 6 (2005) that: “The enjoyment of rights stipulated in the Convention are not limited to children who are citizens of a State party and must therefore, if not explicitly stated otherwise in the Convention, also be available to all children – including asylum seeking, refugee and migrant children – irrespective of their nationality, immigration status, or statelessness. States are also tasked to take into account the vulnerabilities of unaccompanied and separated migrant children which require special protection measures.”
Deportation and stopping migration of children are not solutions for the problems of migrant children. We must recognize that there are strong interweaving motivations behind each migration – economic, personal, social – such that seeking a stop to migration of children without viable alternatives, may only force migrants to move through more irregular or clandestine channels.
As our contribution to addressing these negative social impacts of migration on children, both to children left behind by migrant workers and migrant children, we would like to make the following recommendations.
1. Acknowledge the presence of children in the migration phenomena in our countries, and listen to their voices and perspectives– both those of the child who are left behind by migrant parents and those who are among the migrants.
2. Find ways of working with them directly and recognise them persons human rights and with evolving capacities to participate and make decisions in finding solutions to their own problems.
For children left behind:
3. Sending and destination countries must reconsider their labour migration policies such that long term separation of parents and children are avoided and the right of workers and children to family unity is protected.
4. Promote programmes that develop communities’ awareness on migration realities, allow children to articulate their feelings and views on the migration of their parents and help them cope with the challenges of separations, bridge communication gaps in the families, support management of family finances, and help the children set and achieve educational and other future goals.
5. Ensure that family based care and community protection systems are in place for children left behind who are at risk of neglect, abuse and exploitation. Institutional care of children must be taken as a last resort.
6. Conduct studies that combine quantitative and qualitative approaches to assessing the psychosocial effects and other costs of migration to children left—behind, as well as studies on families that positively cope with migration to generate guidance for more effective policies and programmes.
For migrant children:
7. States must declare a moratorium on the immediate deportation of undocumented children and instead develop strategies to handle cases of migrant children taking into account the best interests of the child.
8. In destination countries, develop mechanisms for the protection of migrant children and enforce policies that that support their basic rights particularly to education, health, birth registration, decent work for those in working ages, and lasting alternative care for children without parental care.
9. It is important that destination and sending countries ensure that children who move do not end up stateless. Birth registration and nationality determination processes must be agreed on between known sending and destination countries.
10. Ensure that migrant children are not criminalisedbecause of their migration status. Rights of children who enter come in conflict with the law must be protected, including provision of language support and legal representation, communication with their families, and adequate temporary care facilities.
11. Ensure that migrant children who are exploited or trafficked are identified as victims, and that they receive necessary recovery support including counseling, health care, and shelter. Timely and safe repatriation and reintegration programmes must be agreed on together by both origin and destination countries..