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International guidance concerning unaccompanied and separated children (Part 3)

Part 3 - video by Felipe Gonzales Morales

On this course page we will consider some other international agreements that offer protection and support to children on the move including unaccompanied and separated children. These agreements can guide our work, as well as help us advocate for better services for unaccompanied and separated children.

In this video we hear from Felipe Gonzales Morales, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. Mr Morales tells us about the importance of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCSORM) and the Global Compact on Refugees adopted in 2018 by Member States of the UN General Assembly.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration specifically calls on States to:

‘Protect unaccompanied and separated children at all stages of migration through the establishment of specialized procedures for their identification, referral, care and family reunification, and provide access to health care services, including mental health, education, legal assistance and the right to be heard in administrative and judicial proceedings, including by swiftly appointing a competent and impartial legal guardian, as essential means to address their particular vulnerabilities and discrimination, protect them from all forms of violence, and provide access to sustainable solutions that are in their best interests’.
Another important agreement is the Joint General Comment on Children in the Context of International Migration issued in 2017. The General Comment reminds us that:
‘When children are unaccompanied, they are entitled to special protection and assistance by the State in the form of alternative care and accommodation in accordance with the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’.
The Joint General Comment goes on to remind us that:
‘In the view of the Committees, child protection and welfare actors should take primary responsibility for children in the context of international migration. When a migrant child is first detected by immigration authorities, child protection or welfare officials should immediately be informed and be in charge of screening the child for protection, shelter and other needs. Unaccompanied and separated children should be placed in the national/local alternative care system, preferably in family-type care with their own family when available, or otherwise in community care when family is not available. These decisions have to be taken within a child-sensitive due process framework, including the child’s rights to be heard, to have access to justice, and to challenge before a judge any decision that could deprive him or her of liberty, and should take into account the vulnerabilities and needs of the child, including those based on their gender, disability, age, mental health, pregnancy or other conditions.’
The Joint General Comment also calls our attention to:
‘The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in relation to unaccompanied and separated children, stated in 2005 that children should not be deprived of their liberty and that detention cannot be justified solely on the basis of the child being unaccompanied or separated, or on their migratory or residence status or lack thereof’.

The New York Declaration on refugees and migrants, adopted in September 2016, recognises that special attention should be given to unaccompanied or separated children. Commitments in the Declaration include the need to ‘give primary consideration at all times to the best interests of the child’ as well as ‘refer their care to the relevant national child protection authorities and other relevant authorities’.

Other UN Conventions with particular relevance to unaccompanied and separated children include the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990) and the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) as modified by its 1967 Protocol.

International Social Service (ISS) has produced a document containing a list of other international laws, conventions and treaties relevant to the lives of unaccompanied and separated children on the move which you can access in the ‘Downloads’ section below.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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