Away alone: Protect children who migrate by themselves

The Caritas Belen reception centre in Saltillo in Mexico offers migrants including this teenager protection from criminal gangs Credits: Worms/Caritas

The Caritas Belen reception centre in Saltillo in Mexico offers migrants including this teenager protection from criminal gangs
Credits: Worms/Caritas

Children migrating alone to other countries are vulnerable to abuse. Caritas calls for better protection for them and a stronger focus on their needs.

Children migrate alone because their families want to protect them against violence or hunger, or want them to send money back to help the family.

According to a 2010 study by Catholic Relief Services (Caritas member in the USA), abuses facing unaccompanied Central American children in Mexico ranged from robbery, extortion, intimidation, verbal abuse, and physical abuse, the last two being the most frequent.

The CRS study says children suffered abuse while in transit, when apprehended, while in detention or during the deportation or repatriation process. Caritas members and church bodies in other parts of the world have reported similar situations of abuse.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child will discuss the contents and implications of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the context of international migration during a ‘Day of General Discussion’ on 28 September 2012.

Caritas asks for better protection of unaccompanied minor migrants and respect for their best interests. The Caritas recommendations are underpinned by two case studies prepared by Caritas Belgium and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services.

“People who migrate alone face great difficulty even as adults. Imagine how much more frightening migration is for a child,” says Martina Liebsch, Advocacy and Policy Director for Caritas Internationalis. “Governments and organisations must work together to protect these most vulnerable migrants.”

Migrants who are minors should not be held in detention. In some countries where the law prohibits detaining children for immigration reasons, increasing numbers of migrant children are nevertheless being kept in detention facilities without the protection they are entitled to under the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Governments should invest in resources to achieve durable solutions for unaccompanied child migrants. They should set up systems to determine the child’s best interest, such as independent panels to decide which long-term solution would be best.

Governments should work in close partnership with non-governmental organisations that serve unaccompanied migrant and refugee children, such as NGOs providing guardians, helping children restore or maintain contact with their family or counselling them as they heal from the trauma of separation.

Please call Laura Sheahen on 0039 334 2344136 or 0039 06 698 797 55 or email


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