Why do children become 'children on the move'? (Part 1)

In this video produced by UNHCR, we hear the voices of children who became refugees and travelled by themselves in order to flee conflict. The children come from different countries in the world. They tell us how they had to flee from their homes. In their own words, they tell us about the terrible things they witnessed, the dangers they faced, and how this has affected them. This video is hosted on YouTube and only available in English.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

In our work to respond to and support unaccompanied and separated children, it is important we understand and appreciate their background, including the reasons why they left home and are on the move. In addition, children often face stigma and discrimination due to people not understanding why they are on the move. With a deeper understanding of the risks children face and what they may be fleeing from, we are better informed to challenge this discrimination.

Understanding a child’s background and their reasons for moving may also help us appreciate why they sometimes have difficulty trusting us, or reject offers of support. In these situations children may continue to travel in a way that leaves them exposed to risks.

Included in the reasons children leave home are:

  • War and armed conflict - such as children that have been fleeing Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria
  • Persecution of a particular social group - for example if they come from a certain ethnic group, or they are indigenous people, or a minority in the population. They may be members of a persecuted religious group such as the Rohingya children fleeing Myanmar. They, or a close family member, may be persecuted because of links to a political organisation
  • Escape from abuse and violence - such as children in Central America who must leave their homes to avoid being recruited or subjected to violence by armed forces or gangs, or when a child is being abused within the family or community and has no-one to turn to for protection
  • Natural disasters - for example as a result of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
  • Exploitation - when children come under the influence of criminals such as traffickers who pretend to offer opportunities but actually deliver them into situations such as forced labour or prostitution. Unfortunately, some families, either unknowingly or willingly, lead their children into exploitative situations. For example, some parents believe traffickers are offering education opportunities when in fact the children are taken to places for purposes of sexual exploitation
  • Threat of early or forced marriage - as for example young girls running away in parts of West Africa to avoid being forced into marriage, or when an unmarried girl becomes pregnant and must leave home because of the stigma this brings to her family
  • Persecution due to sexual orientation or gender expression - for example, those whose sexual orientation is not accepted within local culture, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
  • Family expectations - some children may be sent by their parents to live and work elsewhere if they think the child’s quality of life and prospects will be better. In other cases, the motivation might be to gain financial support from the child they send away
  • Economic aspirations - this might be when the child themselves wants better income opportunities and/or contribute to improving their family’s quality of life
  • Educational aspirations as for example when the child has little access to schooling at home and moves away to gain a better education
  • Family reunification - when children want to join one or both parents or another relative who is living in another country, as, for example, children from Central America who try to join the parents who left them behind when they went to work in the USA

You might be interested to look at the results of a poll that UNICEF conducted in which children on the move spoke about the reasons they left home. Answers included:

This graphic explains that 67% of respondents were forced to leave for any reason. 57% of respondents left their home country specifically because of war, conflic or violence. And 44% of respondents left their home country alone.

You can find the results of this poll here.

The ‘See Also’ section below has links to other reading material that may be of interest to you.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

University of Strathclyde