Children forced from their homes by violence near the border between South Sudan and Sudan.  Caritas provides families with shelter materials and items like mosquito nets and soap. Laura Sheahen/Caritas

Children forced from their homes by violence near the border between South Sudan and Sudan. Caritas provides families with shelter materials and items like mosquito nets and soap. Laura Sheahen/Caritas

By Maria Suelzu, International Advocacy Officer for Caritas Internationalis

International Youth Day is commemorated every year on 12 August. This year the theme is ‘Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward’.

Many migrants are minors. They can be children with relatives, who are looking for asylum or a better place to live and get out of extreme poverty. They can be adolescents trying to escape from hardship, poverty, war or persecution on their own. They can be children moving from poor rural areas to big cities or young girls forced into domestic work at an early age who live and work in conditions often close to servitude.

All these minors should be protected by the provisions indicated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that are binding for the countries who have ratified them (most in fact) and should be used as guidelines by the others.

Caritas reminds national governments, national institutions and border officials that all young people under 18 should be treated as children and protected accordingly, as outlined in the provisions of the CRC.

Children should not be detained (Caritas Internationalis supports the International Coalition Group Campaign to End Detention of Child Migrants).

Children should receive legal, health and social assistance, they should be able to go to school and to receive vocational training, according to their age and independently of their migration status.

Children should be granted a guardian to assist them to clear their legal status. Sometimes they do not even know they could apply and they cannot be left alone to deal with a difficult procedure even for an adult.

It is very important to listen to what every child in a migration situation has to say, after creating a safe environment, do the best to diminish the trauma, put them in contact with parents or relatives if possible, and then find a long term solution.

All this to guarantee a certain standard of life that will enable such children to become balanced young adults, with social and professional skills that can be employed to earn a living with a decent job, create a family either in the receiving countries or in the country of origin.

It is very important for all societies to create the best possible conditions for young people – including and especially minors – to become adults with values and perspectives so that they do not fall prey to criminals, among many other reasons.

In certain countries poor girls between 14 and 17 are convinced by unlicensed agencies to travel abroad as domestic workers. Sometimes a passport is forged for them saying that they are eighteen. They believe they will go abroad for a better life and once  there these girls find themselves in a nightmare of prostitution or domestic servitude from which it is very difficult for them to escape.

Caritas organisations in countries of origin and receiving countries work together to help girls out of such difficult circumstances by providing a safe place to stay, assisting them to travel back home safely and reclaim their lives, enabling them to have a decent life and heal from both psychological and physical trauma.

These Caritas together with other Christian organisations have created a global network Coatnet for more effective transnational assistance to victims of trafficking and for promoting respect of fundamental rights of victims.

When we see a child in the streets, either walking or begging during school hours, do we think that they should be at school like most children? Or do we accept the fact that a lot of children do not have real access to education? Shouldn’t we all contribute to create a society of inclusion especially through education for all children? If children cannot enjoy access to education today, how can they become sound and caring adults one day?

However, it is also true that young migrants, those who were successful and did not suffer trauma during their migration experience or overcame it, move development forward. And their voice is getting stronger. At the recent Interactive Hearing in preparation of the UN High Level dialogue on migration and development  they called for a stronger alignment of education systems to the labour market needs in a mobile world in order to promote mobility, but also integration and inclusion.

It would also be a good indicator for human development if we protect and do not forget the less fortunate and vulnerable.