This paper focuses on those persons under 18 years old who, unaccompanied by their parent(s) or legal guardian, have left their place of habitual residence and are either on the way towards a new destination or have reached such a destination not long ago. These children move within the country or across international borders. Their ages differ and, in regions such as Africa for example, children as young as 10 years old are reported to have moved away, unaccompanied by their parents.

Today, estimations speak about millions of children on the move. These numbers are likely to increase in the years to come, driven by population dynamics in combination with the lack of development and employment opportunities—in particular in rural areas—and given the predicted rising impact of climate change. Most of the population growth will concentrate in the developing world. The largest urban centers are expected to be in countries where sanitation, health care, education, policing and employment opportunities remain scarce. Some argue that this will increase the emigration from these countries; while the decline of developed countries’ labor force will increase the demand for immigrant workers in such countries.

Today, there are mainly three specific situations when children move unaccompanied by their parent(s) and namely: • In the context of armed conflict or natural disaster (internally displaced children, refugees) • When trafficked • When migrating out of free will

In all three situations, the fact that the child is not accompanied by the parent(s) does not necessarily mean that he or she moves entirely on his/her own. Very often these children move in groups of peers or accompanied by adults other then their own parents. The risks and opportunities they face differ also from case to case.

It goes beyond the scope of this paper to discuss in details the risks and opportunities for the children in all the three above-mentioned situations. This paper will thus focus only on the risks and opportunities children face when migrating out of their free will. The paper will first explore the reasons behind the unaccompanied migration of children. Then, based on concrete examples, it will seek to identify some of the most serious protection gaps faced by children. The end of the paper will provide a number of recommendations on how to address such gaps and better protect children on the move.


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