Migrant Children: subject of special protection (Part 2)

Our previous blog entry briefly presented the 4 guiding principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the importance of its application in migratory contexts. This article focuses on offering practical recommendations for the protection of migrant children.

The attention of migrant children from a human rights perspective entails the recognition of children and adolescents as subjects of rights. It should be considered that situations such as being an unaccompanied migrant, separated from their family or in an irregular migratory situation can pose specific challenges for the protection of migrant children. The migratory authorities and directors of the childhood sector must design interventions and preventive actions that allow to reduce the risks of violence, promoting at the same time the integral development of children in all stages of the migratory process.

The different experiences, conditions and needs of children and adolescents must also be analyzed and taken into account. Avoid thinking of children as a homogeneous group. For example, the age of the child has important implications for the services and attention it requires. The ethnic group or origin to which they belong can also present significant challenges to establish communication, identify their protection needs and guarantee their access to information about the migratory process, especially if their native language is different from the countries of transit and destination. Similarly, an unaccompanied child has different experiences from those who travel with their families. Other factors, such as having experienced violence along the route, as well as belonging to minority groups could place migrant children with higher associated risks of violence and in this sense demand from the authorities differentiated responses.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

In many cases, the particular needs and rights of migrant children and adolescents are not adequately addressed by the systems of migration governance and child protection due to the lack of coordination and cooperation. IOM offers 4 recommendations to strengthen the services and attention provided to migrant children.

  1. Promote a comprehensive approach in national child protection systems, as well as access to basic services for migrant children. The actions carried out must prioritize the prevention of violence, exploitation and abuse, promote the collaboration between various national and international actors. In this area, it is important to guarantee the access of child protection systems to migrant children in the same conditions as any national child, avoiding the creation of a parallel care system. Likewise, attention must be given to basic services at all points of the migratory cycle, especially to health facilities, safe lodging, education, legal advice, recreation, participation, protection, social security, health and psychosocial attention.
  2. Protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse during the immigration process. Children must be identified as soon as they come into contact with immigration authorities. Migration officials should receive training to identify indicators of vulnerability linked to trafficking, trauma and exploitation. In addition, discrimination and xenophobia must be combated in countries of transit and destination.
  3. Advocate for alternatives to detention. Detention for immigration reasons is contrary to the best interest of children and, even if it occurs for very short periods, has severe repercussions on the welfare and psychosocial development of the minor. Detention must not be justified by the child's immigration status or by the fact of being an unaccompanied minor.
  4. Strengthen the protection of children and friendly procedures for voluntary return and reintegration processes. The opinion of children and adolescents must be heard in processes aimed at determining the best interests of the child. The return must be made only after completing a tracking and assessment of the family, confirming the identity of the parents or guardian, the size of the family nucleus, the composition, its dynamics and the socioeconomic and health conditions of its members, as well as indicators of possible abuse or neglect, or participation in trafficking networks.

The practices previously described demonstrate the need for greater collaboration between government institutions specialized in childhood and migration to respond to the challenges associated with the protection of migrant children. Likewise, more training is required to identify protection needs and design solutions for all stages of the migratory process of this population.

If you are interested in deepening your knowledge about the protection of migrant children, IOM and the Inter-American Children's Institute have developed the "Specialized Course on Migrant Children in the Americas", which is free of charge through the Learning Platform on Migrant Children.

For more information please contact: 

Alexandra Bonnie, Regional Program of the IOM Mesoamerica, Email: abonnie@iom.int

Esteban de la Torre Ribadeneira, Inter-American Institute of Children, Girls and Adolescents, Email: edelatorre@iinoea.or


Sofía Guerrero holds a Communications degree of the University of Costa Rica and a Master in International Human Rights of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies of the University of Denver. She was a journalist at La Nación, Advocacy and International Cooperation Coordinator at Fundacion Paniamor, Communications Coordinator for Executive Education at INCAE Business School, and consultant for the Central American Integration System and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Wordship of Costa Rica. Recently, she worked as a Foreign Policy Attaché at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica. 

When human trafficking adapts to the pandemic

When human trafficking adapts/reacts to the pandemic
Categoria: Human Trafficking
Autor: Guest Contributor

As reported by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, human trafficking networks, as with other criminal groups, take advantage of people's vulnerability during a humanitarian crisis, such as COVID-19. According to their policy brief, trafficking networks can tailor their operations to capitalize on the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. UNODC also warns that these adjustments in its "business model" are often possible through the abuse of technological tools.

According to data from the aforementioned Global Initiative, these are some of the changes that trafficking networks have experienced during the pandemic:

Increase in online recruitment: cyber-sex trafficking networks on the dark web discuss in closed forums how they have now the possibility to exploit many more children and adolescents, as they spend much more time locked up at home and using the internet due to the closure of schools.

However, capturing potential victims online can also allow criminals to be tracked in some cases, especially given the lack of adequate technical knowledge of criminals to "hijack data", or ransomware, according to Europol.

Possible increase in the cyber-sex demand of minors: In addition to this, trafficking networks see the possibility of attracting the attention of many more people who are interested in material with sexual content, including related to minors. Likewise, since many of the online websites on child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) require memberships that include sharing content of this type, there is more material on child pornography and exploitation circulating. The Global Initiative denounces that this implies a vicious circle where supply and demand increases and where the sexual predators that started their activity during the pandemic are likely to continue once it ends.

Possible less control of the authorities / attention of organizations: Due to the need to focus on other types of situations in the context of the pandemic, the police and other law enforcement authorities may be temporarily unable to follow up on all cases. Non-governmental organizations that provide support in trafficking cases may also have fewer resources or are concentrating their efforts on assisting the COVID-19 socio-sanitary emergency.

Increase in drug-related exploitation: According to the Global Initiative, an example can be traced in marijuana production farms, where as there is greater demand from the market, people who work in slavery conditions are further exploited or in more severe conditions of servitude. It has also been observed that, despite restrictions on mobility, trafficking networks have managed to traffic or mobilize migrants by increasing the price.

Changes in the type of exploitation of the victims who are already captured: As the demand for products and services has changed, some types of exploitation may experience losses in their earnings, such as those that exploit people with forced labor in construction and textiles , or even child labor exploitation. In these cases, traffickers force their victims to work on other tasks that are in greater demand, such as forced labor in agriculture or the sexual exploitation of minors online.

It has also been noticed how, in the context of the pandemic, businesses or companies that previously were not carrying out exploitative practices with their workers, resort to constant dismissal threats, which puts employees in a vulnerable situation, including, for example, the acceptance of new unfavorable conditions: longer hours, less pay, etc.,

Increase of extraordinary offers to people in vulnerable conditions: Given the loss of economic income, many traffickers offers "life-saving" alternatives to alleviate their situation. That means recruitment for informal work, servitude, sex work and even ending up joining to the same network as criminals. To learn more about how people's vulnerability to trafficking is increasing during the pandemic, we invite you to read this blog.

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced States, international cooperation organizations and authorities in general to rethink the way in which social problems, triggered by sanitary measures, are addressed,  including restrictions on mobility. It is necessary to study in depth the changes in the behaviour of criminal networks in order to consider new prevention and assistance measures for victims according to the specific features that crimes is taking on in the context of the pandemic.