CHILDREN ON THE MOVE.
No one leaves home unless home has become a shark (Warsan Shire). Child Migration both locally and internationally exposes children to several risks. Who exactly do we blame for such risk? Are there valid reasons for child migration? Should a child be poorly treated on the basis of his or her status? This and many this article in series seeks to address.
WHO ARE CHILDREN ON THE MOVE?
These are children who move either voluntarily or involuntarily, it could be within or between countries, with or without their parents or caregivers and whose movement while it may open up opportunities might place them at risk including economic or sexual exploitation, abuse, neglect and violence (The Inter-Agency Working Group on Children on the Move). These are children who migrate in search of opportunities but are without authorization, this exposes them to risks and exploitation. Example include children who travel from Benin Republic or neighbouring African countries for Nigeria for better opportunities, sometimes they come with or without their parents for greener pastures. Such children sometimes sleep in fuel stations, uncompleted buildings, garages, under bridges, or even roadside striving for survival. Our article will examine the legal framework and rights of such children, how their rights can be preserved to avoid abuse of any kind.
WHO ARE UNACCOMPANIED MINORS?
In simple terms they are children under the age of eighteen (18) who move from one state to another or cross borders without a guardian or parent. They do not enter the country or state in question alone but with the assistance of an adult such as a parent or guardian or even smugglers. They later abandoned by their family or separated from them. The U.S for example detains children in facilities while authorities determine whether they qualify as unaccompanied or accompanied minors. If accompanied minors, they are separated from such adults who are deemed unrelated or dangerous or from family members facing prosecution. Such children are placed in influx facilities during emergencies or in a foster home while their legal status is being heard in court. If the child wins the asylum or immigration relief, such child can legally stay in the United States but if otherwise, they are deported to home countries.
Recently, Trump’s administration brought some strict measures to deter asylum seekers, this expanded detention and family separations. The reason for this according to the President is the surge of arrivals at the border which has overwhelmed the Immigration system and threatening national security. Does this violate any law? This is runs contrary to international standards especially as it relates to children.
Countries are to avoid separation of children from families unless when it is detrimental to the child. Detaining a child should be “only as a measure of last resort and within the shortest period of time”. (UN CRC)
WHAT IS THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR CHILDREN ON THE MOVE?
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child(CRC 1989)
- The Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness
- The 1951 Refugee Convention
- The Child Rights Act (2003)
- The Child Rights Law
- The Constitution of the Federal Republic as amended 1999
REASONS FOR CHILD MIGRATION
Poverty is one major reason for child migration. They are in search for better opportunities and survival, this endangers their lives but they prefer dying trying than never. Security threat and the need to spare their lives is another reason. In cases of wars or violent attacks, children lives are at risk and will seek safety elsewhere. An example is the crisis in the Northern region of Nigeria where children had to migrate to other states or neighbouring countries like Chad for safety. Natural disasters such as flood, draught, earthquake necessitate child migration. The migration of parents or caregivers is another reason. Some who have been abandoned or neglected by parents, caregivers, migrant in search of such parents or caregivers for reunification.
RIGHTS OF CHILDREN ON THE MOVE.
Children on the moveare also humans with rights. Their rights are guaranteed under the CRC and other relevant instruments. There are core principles which uphold the rights of children on the move and these principles emphasize the need to treat children first as children. This means their best interest should be put first before the status of a child whether as a migrant or a refugee.
Right to be heard: this accords the child opportunity to be heard when apprehended or freely express their views as regards matters affecting them. This as a general principle views children not only as vulnerable persons but as informed decision makers with rights and active members of the society. Migrant children are not excluded, when apprehended by authorities; children must be heard and allowed to express their minds without intimidation. Translation must be accurate to avoid incorrect information during asylum procedures.
Right to non-discrimination: This ensures that dignity is afforded to every child irrespective of child’s status, or parent’s colour, race, sex, language, religion, ethic group or disability. The CRC provides that this right is applicable to non-national children, refugees or children of migrant workers. This affords a child necessary assistance where it is in the best interest of the child, it does not imply automatic stay but that whether a child will be returned must first be on the principle of best interest and not the status of such child.(Art 2.1 CRC)
Right to Life, Survival and Development : this deals with the security, health, quality of care and growth of every child. This includes allowing the child o grow in a family friendly environment or any other alternative family care plan in the best interest of the child. Access to education and recreational activities is also part of it.
Right of Access to Justice: Children on the move who come in conflict with the law, should be dealt with based on clear standards and regulations by states upholding the right treatment during legal proceedings. Children who happen to be victims of crime are protected from punishment especially where the child was forced by an adult into committing such crimes.
Right to Consular Assistance: Support and consular assistance from country of residence.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR CHILDREN ON THE MOVE?
- Exploitation and Abuse: a child who is already vulnerable to poverty or who is a school dropout will likely face more risk of abuse.
- Violence: This happens sometimes during transit from some officials such as smugglers, Immigration Officers and Police.
- Conflict with the law: Some children in a bid to survive get involve with crimes.
- Death/Malnutrition: Some children lose their lives as a result of hunger, dehydration, accident or malnutrition.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
- The Government should see children regardless of their status and treat them as children ensuring their rights are preserved.
- The need to provide security in the home communities so that the pressure on child migration be brought to barest minimum.
- Policies and practices on border control which are sensitive to migrant children and provides child welfare based approach to the reception of migrant children.
- Every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Their views should be heard without threats or intimation.
- Quality education and health services for these children will help in preserving their future which looks vague.
- Skills acquisition should be encouraged so they can be productive from a young age and contribute meaningfully to societal development.
Children on the move are children with rights regardless of their status. The risks associated with such children is alarming hence they should be seen as vulnerable children in need of protection and care. The mistakes of others should not be melted on a child, government, NGOs, Social Workers, and every individual has a role to play in safeguarding child migrants.
Success Oghosa Osasogie is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner and a professional volunteer.
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