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COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD HOLDS DAY OF GENERAL DISCUSSION ON CHILDREN AND INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION

COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD HOLDS DAY OF GENERAL DISCUSSION ON CHILDREN AND INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION
28 September 2012

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today held its annual Day of General Discussion with regard to the rights of children in the context of international migration.  It held a panel discussion on specific challenges faced by children in international migration situations and on measures for protection and promotion of children’s rights.  During the course of the day participants divided into two working groups, one to discuss an international framework on the rights of children in international migration situations and the other to consider national measures for the implementation of the rights of children in international migration situations. 

In opening remarks, Jean Zermatten, Committee Chairperson, said that children were a particularly vulnerable group of migrants who often faced additional difficulties, especially if they were female, unaccompanied or children with disabilities.  Ensuring the rights of all children could be achieved only if children were dealt with as real rights-holders, whatever their circumstances.

François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants, said that the rights of migrant children were often overlooked in the national laws and policies addressing migration and that the situation was even worse for migrant children in an irregular situation.  Migration of children had multi-dimensional root causes, such as persecution of the child or the child’s parents, post- conflict situations, and trafficking, including the sale of the child by its own parents, yet it remained a way for children to seek a better future. 

Two child representatives took the floor to express their views.  Fatoumata Mariko, National Delegate of the Association of Children and Young Workers of Mali and 14 years old, said that education and healthcare for children should be improved and leisure activities for children should be provided to discourage them from migrating.  Listening to children was very important: adults should listen and provide guidance. 
Sasima Srikhwang, selected by the Forum on Child Migration of Thailand to participate in the day of general discussion, said she was 16 years old and lived on the border between Thailand and Lao People's Democratic Republic.  She said that the main cause of migration was a hope for a better future and that it was important for migrants to be provided with adequate information about the dangers and risks of migrating.  

Lena Karlsson, Director of the Child Protection Initiative, Save the Children International, said that a lack of opportunities and humanitarian disasters were two reasons why children decided to migrate, often putting their life at risk.  A holistic approach to the protection of rights of the child was needed both within and between countries, always with the best interests of the child in mind, and the coordination of state and private actors from different countries was particularly important in that respect.  

Cecilia Landerreche, Director, National System for the Holistic Development of the Family in Mexico, said that her country had realized the need for a public policy which would address the root problems of migration in a country of origin and of destination, and had sought solutions through regional and international cooperation.  The Government took initiatives to discourage persons from migrating abroad by providing incentives for them to remain in their local communities.

In concluding remarks, Marta Maurás Perez, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, said that States and all stakeholders needed to implement the Convention on the Right of the Child, which should become a truly universal instrument, and stressed the need to make children a visible element in legislation and policies on migration.  No migrant child should be detained and States needed to recognize human mobility as a right of children.  The best interest of the child should be systematically incorporated into national policies and consideration should be given to establishing a United Nations Panel on Migration. 

Jean Zermatten, Committee Chairperson, announced that the Committee’s 2013 Day of General Discussion would be on the theme ‘Media, Social Networks and the Rights of the Child’.   

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday 5 October at 3 p.m. at Palais Wilson, when it will adopt its concluding recommendations on the State party reviews reviewed, and close the session.

Opening remarks

JEAN ZERMATTEN, Committee Chairperson, said that today’s discussion would be about the rights of children in international migration situations.  Children were a particularly vulnerable group of migrants who often faced additional difficulties, for example if they were female, unaccompanied or children with disabilities.  Ensuring the rights of all children could be achieved only if children were dealt with as real rights-holders, whatever their circumstances.  By gathering information the Committee intended to issue recommendations that would be useful to States dealing with migration related issues.

Statement by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

FRANÇOIS CREPEAU, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, said that the rights of migrant children were often overlooked in national laws and policies addressing migration and welfare and that the situation was even worse for migrant children in an irregular situation.  States often saw migration as a problem and portrayed migrants as potential law-breakers or criminals, overlooking the fact that migration of children in particular had multi-dimensional root causes, such as persecution of the child or the child’s parents, post-conflict situations, and trafficking, including the sale of the child by its own parents.  Yet migration remained a way for children to seek a better future for themselves and was a strategic way to escape poverty and discrimination.  Migrant children, including not only those who sought entry into a new country but also those who were born to migrant parents in a foreign country, should be treated as human beings, not as victims of circumstance.

Irregular migrant children faced significant challenges and should not be held responsible legally or morally but deserved respect and protection of their fundamental rights.  All persons under the age of 18 years should be recognized as children.  Immigration policies should never be enforced at the expense of a child’s best interests and enforcement should be overseen not by immigration authorities but by agencies specializing in migrant children’s rights.  Scattered statistical data of migrant children made it difficult to find sustainable solutions, so States should strengthen their data collection processes to be able to formulate appropriate migration policies.

Migration authorities in many countries seemed to lack basic awareness.  Therefore, capacity building and inter-agency coordination within States was important to ensure the protection of the rights of the child.  The Convention was an important tool in that respect but in practice the rights of children were often violated.  For example, children faced serious restrictions to basic human rights such as access to education, housing and healthcare, or violations of their rights, including deportation and separation from their parents.  A related issue was the use of incorrect terminology that depicted individuals as illegal and reinforced negative stereotypes against migrants.  It was important, therefore, to recognize that no child or human being was illegal and that all children had rights regardless of their individual status.   

The detention of migrant children should be avoided as a matter of principle.  Detaining migrant children together with their parents justified by the principle of maintaining family unity violated the principle of the best interests of the child and also their right not to be punished for the acts of their parents.  Detention of parents, too, had a detrimental effect on children.  It was important, therefore, for States to evaluate carefully their need of detention taking into account all alternatives available.  Unaccompanied children, who were particularly vulnerable to being sexually exploited, should not be detained or criminalized solely because of their irregular entry into a country but, rather, a guardian should be appointed until the child reached the age of maturity.  Also, States should take all necessary measures to ensure that no child stayed trapped in an in-between situation, which was often the case with irregular migrant children, and should remember that migrant children should always be treated as children first.    

Introductory Statements by Child Representatives

FATOUMATA MARIKO, National Delegate of the Association of Children and Young Workers of Mali, 14 years old, said that some of her friends had had to leave the village where she was born.  The mobility of children was not a bad thing if it was in the best interest of the child but could not always be the solution to children’s problems.  Education and healthcare for children should be improved and leisure activities for children should be provided to discourage them from migrating.  Listening to children was very important and adults should listen and provide guidance. The authorities should do everything possible to improve the living conditions of children in their local communities.

SASIMA SRIKHWANG, selected by the Forum on Child Migration of Thailand to participate in the day of general discussion, said she was 16 years old and lived on the border between Thailand and Lao People's Democratic Republic.  Miss Srikhwang said that the main cause of migration was a hope for a better future.  Migrants often left their country of origin with no or very little information on migrating procedures and ended up in prison in a foreign country.  Children were particularly vulnerable to a number of risks, including trafficking and exploitation.  It was important, therefore, for migrants to be given adequate information about migrating.  Children of migrants born outside their country of origin should be able to acquire the nationality of the country where they were born and should be given adequate access to basic services such as education and healthcare. 

Introductory Statements by Experts

LENA KARLSSON, Director, Child Protection Initiative, Save the Children International, said that all children wanted to have a normal life.  The lack of opportunities and humanitarian disasters were some of the reasons why children decided to migrate, often putting their life at risk.  Children knew that travelling alone was a risky way of migrating and were often left vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation.  Sometimes they suffered cruel treatment by police and other officers at border check points.  Arriving in a new country with many opportunities was a very daunting experience, and they often faced stigmatization and lack of access to basic services because of their irregular status. 

Children in such situations were in need of help and emotional support, which they sometimes received from peers.  More importantly, however, children should be consulted and have their views taken seriously into account.  A holistic approach to the protection of rights of the child was needed both within and between countries, always with the best interests of the child in mind.  In that respect, coordination of State and private actors from different countries was particularly important because it could strengthen cooperation and lead to improve services for children.  The phenomenon of migration was a reality, said Ms. Karlsson, and children were an integral part of it.  Their rights needed to be fully protected wherever they were.

CECILIA LANDERRECHE, Director, National System for the Holistic Development of the Family (Mexico), said that she wanted to talk about a strategy that Mexico had developed as a country of origin and destination for migrants.  The aim was to promote the collaboration of actors, State and private, national and international, to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable migrant children.  Migrant children who travelled unaccompanied were an especially vulnerable group, because they were exposed to many risks and their rights were violated.  To say that all unaccompanied migrant children migrated because of the lack of opportunities in their country of origin was to oversimplify a multifaceted problem.  What was needed was a public policy with comprehensive, long-term solutions.  Mexico realized the need for a public policy which would address the root problems of migration in the country of origin and sought appropriate solutions through regional and international cooperation.

One of the reasons that international organizations existed was to increase collaboration between States but domestic cooperation was equally important.  That was the reason that Mexico had set up a Board to deal with migration issues at the federal level and to coordinate action across the country.  The Government had established a procedure dealing with arriving migrants at all stages of the process of migration, paying special attention to the provision of support and care to unaccompanied migrant children at the Northern and Southern borders of the country as soon as they arrived.  Efforts would be made to track down family members as soon as possible to help the children develop community ties, and support was offered to the children throughout their lives. 

An effective strategy needed to begin with prevention, said Ms. Landerreche.  Therefore, Mexico also addressed the root problems of migration within the country and took initiatives to discourage persons from migrating abroad by providing incentives for them to remain in their local communities.  Furthermore, information was exchanged with neighbouring countries, such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, with the aim of strengthening inter-State institutional capacity.  Problems that transcended borders such as migration needed to be addressed with solutions that also transcended borders.

Working Group on the international framework on the rights of children in international migration situations

On the topic of an international framework on the rights of children in international migration situations, KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Member Acting as Rapporteur, made a comprehensive summary of what had been said during the workshop. She began by saying that migration agreements should have child perspectives.  She stressed the need for better coordination between the European Union and individual European Union Member States on migration policies and said that children participation in national and regional policies on migration was very important.  She noted that children were often forgotten in the discussion of migration and said that the separation of migration and the rights of the child should be avoided.  The Convention was an important tool but the rights of the child should not be forgotten in other instruments, such as the International Labour Organization Conventions on migrant children, which States should take into account when forming national policies on migration. 

Data collection was very important, said Ms. Sandberg, both at the national and international level.  All children’s rights should be taken into account but priority should be given to groups of children with particular vulnerabilities, such as seasonal migrant children, unaccompanied children, children with disabilities, and undocumented and stateless children.  Mental health approaches and durable solutions to displacement should also be given due consideration.  The detention of minors up to the age of 18 years should cease altogether.  Effective coordination mechanisms needed to be established within each country so that migrant children were not left in the competence of different departments.  Equally important was the prevention of forced migration or of conditions such as poverty and unemployment which forced children to migrate.

Working Group on national measures for the implementation of the rights of children in international migration situations

On the topic of national measures for the implementation of the rights of children in international migration situations, HADEEL AL-ASMAR, Committee Member Acting as Rapporteur, made a comprehensive summary of what had been said during the workshop.  He said that the State had the responsibility to provide all children with adequate protection without discrimination and also with full access to healthcare, education and appropriate housing.  In addition, local authorities should be given adequate resources to provide support and assistance.  Training should be provided to officers with a duty to interviewing children so that interviews were conducted in an appropriate, culturally sensitive manner.  Information on seeking asylum in a language understood by the children concerned should be provided and every child should be provided with a guardian regardless of age.  Detention was not in the best interest of the child and should be avoided, whether children were accompanied or unaccompanied.  Regional courts should offer judicial advice to children and nationality laws should be reviewed to ensure the accessibility of migrant children to nationality.

Concluding remarks

MARTA MAURÁS PEREZ, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, stressed the need to make children a visible element in legislation and policies on migration.  Moreover, States and all stakeholders needed to implement the Convention on the Right of the Child, which should become a truly universal instrument.  She noted that accompanied children who migrated with their families were often not taken into account.  Children between 16 and 18 years were not taken into account either when it came to offering them protection.  Ms. Perez acknowledged that not all cases were the same but stressed that all children needed to be protected without any discrimination whatsoever.  No child should be detained, and States needed to recognize human mobility as a right of children.  States should also listen to children and seek alternatives to repatriation, which was not an acceptable solution.  The best interest of the child should be systematically incorporated into national policies.  States needed to find common ground and work together.  To that end, establishing a United Nations Panel on Migration should be given consideration.

JEAN ZERMATTEN, Committee Chairperson, said that the Day of General Discussion, which had a broad scope and a large number of participants, had been challenging but fruitful.  The Committee was satisfied with the outcome of the working groups and thanked everyone who had worked towards ensuring that the event ran smoothly and efficiently.  Finally, the Chairperson announced that the Committee’s 2013 Day of General Discussion would be on the theme ‘Media, Social Networks and the Rights of the Child’.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CRC12/037E