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Women’s Refugee Commission Recommendations for the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges: Children on the Move

The mission of the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) is to improve the lives and protect the rights of women, children, and youth displaced by conflict and crises. We welcome the emphasis on Children on the Move at this year’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges and the central role that young people themselves will have during the Dialogue. This underscores the importance of consulting directly with children and adolescents to understand their specific protection concerns and proposed solutions. We hope the Dialogue will result in a collective commitment to concrete actions that will improve protection for children on the move.

In this brief, WRC lays out recommended actions based on the work we have done for many years on access to protection for children and adolescents, as well as the outcomes from the 2015-2016 Global Refugee Youth Consultations (GRYC) that we had the privilege to co-lead with UNHCR. For further information on GRYC, including the final report with findings and recommendations, visit: https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/youth/resources/1385-gryc-final-report-sept-2016


Recommendation #1: States, UN agencies and civil society should reaffirm their commitment to promote the rights address the needs and capitalize on the potential of refugee and host community children and adolescents in full partnership with them.

In 2015, children constituted more than half of the total refugee population with the number of unaccompanied and separated children on the move also growing dramatically. Yet asylum procedures, reception conditions, and search for solutions often are not designed with the specific needs, rights, experiences and capacities of children and adolescents in mind.

Recommendation #2: Affirm the importance of working with and for refugee and host community children and adolescents in an inclusive manner, and engaging the hardest-to-reach children and adolescents.

The participation, consultation and engagement should include children and adolescent boys and girls in all their diversity. Often the most marginalized are not heard, and efforts should be undertaken by humanitarian actors to understand who are marginalized in a given context and to ensure their full inclusion. WRC’s research has found that adolescent girls, children with disabilities or persons who do not fall into society’s gender norms are often not consulted and thus, not included in programming that strengthens their capacities and skills.

Recommendation #3: WRC welcomes the conclusions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, that detention is never is a child’s best interest. Detention of children and families is harmful to their mental and physical wellbeing and should not be used for immigration purposes. Instead, family and sponsors in the community should provide protection and assist in legal procedures for normalizing status.

Recommendation #4: Children must have access to reunification with family members, and family separation should be avoided and never used as punishment.

Children seeking protection or reunification with family are often treated as criminals, placed in detention, separated from accompanying family members and face obstacles in accessing and navigating complex immigration or protection systems. Asylum and immigration laws are complex, and children often do not have attorneys, advocates, guardians, or basic information provided to them. Even where they are able to navigate the system, the violence and threats from which the children are fleeing sometimes is not perceived as qualifying for asylum, refugee, or other protected status. Children threatened or forced into slavery, gangs, or as child soldiers face barriers to protection or recognition as victims rather than perpetrators.

Recommendation #5: Children should be ensured of access to legal protection mechanisms for asylum, refugee status, or other protective status. They should be provided with child advocates, guardians and attorneys to represent them in their legal application for protection. They should be provided with information on their legal and civil rights and responsibilities.

Lack of legal recognition and barriers to obtaining personal documents often lead to children and adolescents having difficulties accessing legal protection, assistance and services, and such barriers might even lead to statelessness. WRC advocates for governments to provide refugees and asylum-seekers with protection and due process, both in-transit and upon arrival in a host country.

Recommendation #6: WRC welcomes the launch of the UNHCR/UNICEF Coalition of Every Child’s Right to nationality and encourages reform of gender discriminatory nationality laws to ensure that women and men have equal rights to confer nationality on their children. We encourage interested parties to join the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, housed at WRC, and support its efforts to end gender discrimination in nationality laws.

Lack of birth registration and gender discrimination in nationality laws are leading causes of statelessness. A significant number of countries with large, displaced populations maintain nationality laws that deny women citizens the equal ability to confer nationality on their children. While the impact of these laws can be substantial during times of peace and stability, in contexts of displacement the numbers of families harmed by these discriminatory laws can increase exponentially. Forced displacement and migration from countries with gender-discriminatory nationality laws and lack of birth registration in host countries threatens to create a new generation of stateless children. These discriminatory laws also contravene Articles 2 and 9 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child articles 2, 7 and 8.

Recommendation #7: Ensure solutions for children and adolescents provide them with full access to inclusive and quality learning, education, skills-building, livelihood and employment opportunities.

Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the upheaval of conflict and disaster. In fleeing their homes they often lose any chance of getting an education. In conflict-affected and fragile states, 40 million children and adolescents are out of school. Girls’ education and employment opportunities are further limited by gender-based violence and discrimination. Children and adolescents with disabilities face added discrimination in education and skills-building opportunities, reducing their access to information and increasing isolation from protective peer networks. Without school or vocational training, displaced youth sit idle in camps, or if in urban areas, they take their chances working informally. Desperate and impressionable, they are vulnerable to exploitation by employers, human traffickers and child militia recruiters. They are stripped of the stable communities that served to guide their growth. Their enormous potential to contribute to their families and societies goes largely unsupported.

Recommendation #8: GBV prevention and risk mitigation efforts identify and target those children and adolescents most at risk, due to intersecting discrimination.

Displaced children and adolescents —girls and boys in all their diversity— face particular GBV risks while they are on the move. The risks cuts across the displacement cycle: risk while on the move; risk in transit centers; risk in urban or camp settings; risks in host communities; risks upon return to conflict torn societies; as well as in various settings they are in: risks within the home; risks at school; risks related to working; and heightened risks faced by adolescent girls and girls with disabilities. Further attention should be given to use of cash programming for protection of unaccompanied minors, survivors of GBV and households with children with disabilities, in order to prevent negative coping.

Recommendation #9: Ensure that children and adolescents have access to adequate health care, including psychosocial support and sexual and reproductive health for adolescent girls.

Children and adolescents on the move often have traumatizing experiences, and access to psychosocial support is key for them to be able to recover and live full and productive lives. During migration and displacement, adolescent girls face high risks of sexual exploitation, abuse and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Furthermore, adolescent girls and boys with disabilities, already largely excluded from both formal and informal networks for sexual and reproductive health information and education, face heightened risk of sexual abuse as familial and community support mechanisms are disrupted due to displacement. At the time reproductive health needs are greatest, to safe health services for adolescent girls are the hardest to access.

The importance of sexual and reproductive health programs for displaced adolescents is receiving increased attention, however there is little documentation of successful programs. To address this gap, WRC, and Save the Children undertook a year-long exercise to map existing adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) programs and document good practices.

For a list of WRC reports related to the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Children on the Move, please visit: https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/youth/2502-wrc-reports-children-on-the-move