* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
5 Countries actively protecting migrant children
To protect migrant children across West Africa, Terre des hommes is committed to meeting with all persons and organisations to guarantee the protection of migrant children. The aim is to build on, strengthen and connect existing systems for their protection in order to build a common, efficient and sustainable model. Thanks to the readiness of communities, families, children, government agencies, NGOs and public opinion, children will be able to benefit from improved security throughout their journey to make their dreams of success come true and be protected from all the kinds of violence they might face.
In 2008, 8 international organisations* including Terre des hommes and about 60 other national bodies, expressed the desire to work together to look differently at the issue of the migration of children in West Africa (specifically Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Togo). Together in a regional forum, they met, discussed and built on 10 years of experience in the fight against child trafficking. They weighed the positive and negative aspects of child mobility. Through their analysis, Tdh and its partners were able to make authorities and organisations recognise child migration as a non-reducible phenomenon not exclusive to child trafficking but something linked to a multitude of causes, practices and experiences: a major unavoidable problem in West Africa for which an entire system must be implemented to ensure that children feel the benefits and no longer suffer.
Existing practices : from inefficiency to the willingness to protect children.
So far, due to a lack of perception on all the issues regarding mobility, opinion differs as to the two fundamental guarantees necessary for the protection of migrant children. On the one hand, nation states saw child migration solely in terms of child trafficking, but on the other hand, local communities saw it as an opportunity for success or survival, underestimating the risks involved. Children’s opinions, wishes and situations were little known or studied. On one hand, this led to forced or pressured departures and on the other, to hiding, ignorance or a fear of seeking support or help from the available protection services.
These services do exist however. Nation states have set up laws and measures, shelters, social workers… to avoid children falling victim to exploitation, trafficking or abuse. These measures do indeed help children who have suffered violence but restrict those whose movement is voluntary, legitimate, rational and positive. These measures often only come down to interceptions by the police, removing children from where they are found, repatriation of children and rapid reintegration. However, the child may indeed have left home due to a lack of opportunities (education, employment…) or due to a danger more extreme than that experienced during their migration (extreme poverty, war, violence…).
From the point of view of local communities, they know that their children may experience a great deal of violence, but this lack of hope outweighs their fears. They have developed ways of helping each other based on values, perceptions, standards, beliefs and experiences. They are often at odds with those suggested or imposed by nation states or organisations which do not always take into account those realities. However, many of these so called indigenous or community based protection practices have already proven effective among migrant children. Depending on the country, these practices could assure them lodgings with a ‘landlord’ or a ‘guardian’, advice from a ‘big sister’ or greater protection than that provided by associations for immigrants. But again, the real willingness or capacity that children have to leave their home village and the risks they face cannot be quantified. These practices do not always fulfil their real needs. They are also not available to all children nor are they connected, leaving children, at some time or other on their journey, alone and without adequate protection.
Consolidating local, national and international standards.
The aim of the Tdh project is to rely on existing resources but also to strengthen and connect them. The lack of efficiency of these systems lies in the fact that those involved do not work together nor have a real concept of the possibilities and risks involved with migrant children, despite their willingness to spare children from violence. Child protection will therefore be consolidated by taking into account their best interests and reconciling local social standards, national law and international standards. Children will therefore be accompanied during their journey : they will be able to travel safely, see their chances optimised and will be protected or rescued from all forms of violence before and after their migration as well as on their return journey home.
Tdh and its local partners will first educate and raise awareness among nation states and communities to the dangers faced by children and to the opportunities available to them in villages during their migration and at their destination. Magistrates, police officers, social centres, health centres, teachers, community groups, families and community leaders etc. will all be involved and be in a position to protect children in any situation and take into account their wishes and needs when accompanying them in their projects.
In the 5 countries involved, Tdh is supporting 30 community projects set up on the routes that migrant children take. These projects are linked not only to each other but also to government services so that children will have access to health services, protection, someone to talk to, advice on starting and planning their journey and reaching their final destination. Local communities are also developing legal measures and provisions. Tdh is also helping nation states committed to developing care systems aimed specifically at migrant children. This apparatus will be common and accepted by all, based on existing community practices as well as differing national legal systems, international law and the expertise of Tdh. Taking into account the cross-border movement of children, nation states will also be connected to each other with the aim of establishing bi- and multilateral agreements.
Rousing civil society, the media and public opinion.
This work is the result of strong advocacy led by Tdh and the seven other organisations in the regional platform. Other organisations from civil, community, national and international society are also involved in this plea. Together, they will take action in the ECOWAS region (Economic Community of West Africa) to integrate migrant child protection policies into their global strategy.
Terre des homme also tries to rouse public opinion so that all people are aware of the situation of migrant children, that they may contribute to their protection. Educative seminars for the press, press conferences and public events will be organised for all to stand tall and show willingness to protect children, in particular exploited migrant children.
Children will thus set off in the best way possible, with a well thought out plan for the future. A whole chain of services will ensure their well-being and protect them from all dangers they might face. Local communities will continue to receive and support them but with a greater awareness of the violence they may have sustained, a better understanding of the kind of protection to give them and to which service to refer them when problems arise. Finally, nation states should, together, improve the provision of health services, social protection, education, training and employment for children and young people in areas with a high potential for migration.
- Terre des hommes, Save the Children, Plan, Enda, MAEJT, Unicef, OIM, BIT.