A new report from UNICEF highlights some alarming statistics about vulnerable children in the world. As I write millions of children are on the move across international borders, fleeing violence and conflict, disaster or poverty in pursuit of a better life.
Hundreds of thousands of these children are alone, without any support and they face particularly grave risks. Unprotected, the children are easy prey for traffickers and others who abuse them. I can’t imagine how I would feel if this was my son, daughter, sister or brother who somehow got separated from me and my family. Can you?
UNICEF reports that in 2015-16 at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were registered in 80 countries when they crossed borders. This is a five-fold increase from 66,000 in 2010-11. In fact the real number is likely much higher as not every child is registered. On the dangerous Central Mediterranean Sea passage from North Africa to Europe, 92 per cent of children who arrived in Italy in 2016 and the first two months of 2017 were unaccompanied, up from 75 per cent in 2015.
Save the Children reported in April this year that it was providing support to children as young as nine, who have fled war or poverty and have travelled under the radar for thousands of kilometres without a parent or guardian. “They are invisible to the authorities, and in some cases even when identified, they are placed in inadequate conditions, sometimes even detained.” As I have written previously, my own country Australia breaks numerous international laws, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, by placing children who have come seeking asylum in detention centres in the country and in off-shore island facilities. Further reading can be found the excellent website of the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.
Nearly all sovereign states around the world ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They committed to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.” This means that all children, regardless of legal status, nationality or statelessness have the right to be protected from harm, have access to healthcare and education, to be with their family and have their interests protected.
It’s easy to forget that developing regions host 86 per cent of the world’s refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate. This means that the greatest share of responsibility falls on countries that are often ill-equipped to provide protection, while other wealthier countries take measures to reinforce their borders and stop people from arriving on their shores.
UNICEF reminds us that all children have a right to survive, thrive and fulfill their potential, to the benefit of a better world. Children can have a powerful voice – but we need to pay attention so those voices can be heard. Only then can we be informed, contribute to the conversation and influence change.