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Risks that unaccompanied and separated children face

Video featuring Gurvinder Singh
I’m Gurvinder Singh, and I’m the child protection advisor for the IFRC. When we look around the world today, we have 300,000 children that are unaccompanied and separated. They’re alone and they’re unsafe, and these are some of the most vulnerable children around the world. There is clear evidence that children who are alone are at risk of sexual and gender based violence, also known as SGBV. And when we talk about SGBV what we mean is sexual violence against children. But the gender based violence, violence that is motivated by unequal power that is due to gender imbalances, cultural dynamics that put children at risk, this includes things like trafficking, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, child marriage.
There are people we know, when we have children that are alone, who will try to take advantage and hurt them. And the consequences for this, of course, even if we put ourselves in their positions just for a moment, that fear, that stress, that sense of being violated and hurt and what that does to a child or to any person can last for decades. And this is happening when children are in their places of origin about to depart, in transit, and in destination, and even sometimes when they’re on the return home. And so it’s a risk that we see across children’s migration journey. There is very clear evidence that girls are at high risk of sexual and gender based violence.
There’s clear evidence for that around the world. And we know that when girls are alone, that risk persists. Where we have a blind spot, and this is becoming more apparent, is also boys. Boys are not being recognised as at the risk of SGBV, although it’s very much the case. When we look at the number of children around the world who are alone and migrating, we have a very high proportion of boys and it’s these boys that can be at risk. There’s also categories of children, like children who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, queer who don’t get attention, who may not have come out at the-, while they’re migrating, but who have a very specific and high risk of SGBV.
We need to make sure these kids are safe. So when we’re looking at all of these things, we know that children, when we ask them about protection systems, how they can be safe, they say-, 20% of children say, that they know how to be safe and how to protect themselves. There’s 80% of girls and boys who don’t know the risk of SGBV when they’re migrating, especially alone. They don’t know where to get services. They don’t know how to access them, and they don’t know how to help protect themselves. So we have some really serious gaps that can be filled partially by frontline workers.
So the work that people on the frontline do, whether they’re a health provider, psychosocial support, legal counsellor, someone at the border, they have a crucial role to keep children safe from SGBV. What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is that often these people at the frontline don’t have the education and information that they need. They don’t know the basic elements around what is SGBV, how do we prevent and respond to it? And how do we help that child who’s put their trust in us as a frontline person to actually access referral services that are going to be confidential, safe, and respectful? That’s something that we don’t always have at the level we need to. So we need to flip that.
All frontline personnel need to have the skills to understand what is SGBV? What is my role and my position to help this child? And where do I take this child? What are those services that can help protect this child? In the end, we know that none of this is inevitable. Girls, boys, they do not need to face the risk of SGBV, and we know these children are already at such high risk. It’s just one more vulnerability on one more vulnerability. However, frontline workers, if we work together, if we have the right information, we can take significant steps to really reduce the risk of SGBV against these children.

In this video we hear from Gurvinder Singh. Gurvinder is the Child Protection Advisor for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC). He tells us about some of the risks that face children moving alone. In particular, Gurvinder highlights the risk of sexual and gender based violence – also known as SGBV – towards children on the move alone. The SGBV risks include sexual and physical abuse, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage. SGBV is the result of unequal power, including that between male and females, and children are disproportionately affected. There can be terrible and long-lasting emotional, physical and health consequences for children who experience SGBV.

SGBV is happening when children are in their place of origin, in transit, at their final destination, and when they return home. There is very clear evidence that girls moving alone are at high risk of SGBV but we must also recognise that boys are vulnerable too. Gurvinder refers to a survey in which only 20% of children on the move said they knew what exploitation is. This points to the lack of basic information, tools or support children have that can help protect them from SGBV.

Gurvinder highlights the importance of all frontline workers acquiring the knowledge and skills to keep children safe from SGBV.

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

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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