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Guiding principles (Part 3)

Informed consent and confidentiality.
Teenage boy with his hands covering his face so we can't see his features. He stands in a small room with two buck beds.
© UNICEF (UNI121793) / Dormino

In all circumstances, consent should be sought from children about the decisions taken with them, and on their behalf.

This means we should:

  • Seek permission from the child to gather information about them
  • Always explain to the child how the information will be shared or used, making sure you carefully explain and check the child fully understands
  • Provide a child with all necessary information to base decisions on
  • Provide all information in an appropriate manner – preferably in their own language and taking into account age, maturity, disability, etc.

There may be difficulties when seeking consent. For example, a child may not want to consent to a particular action or to giving you particular information. A child may choose to live independently even when this puts them at serious risk of being ill-treated or trafficked. They may not want to report being abused by their caregiver in case this results in the child being separated from that caregiver. We should carefully take into account why children might react in this way, especially if they have had previous bad experiences. In such circumstances, you and others responsible for the child’s care have to take actions that are in the best interests of the child. The child’s safety and the possibility of the child being exposed to severe harm usually outweighs other factors.


Confidentiality means respecting children’s privacy and only sharing specific information about the child with others when this is necessary to protect the child and provide the most suitable care. For example, agencies and caseworkers involved in case management should collect, share, and store information about children in a safe way, and according to agreed data protection policies in their agencies.

You may need to share information with organisations in a different country which will require you to take extra care. For example, if a child is seeking asylum, it is essential that no communication or information about the child is transmitted to the authorities in the child’s country of origin. The International Committee of the Red Cross does have a mandate for tracing, and can be asked to trace family members.

For further information on informed consent and procedures and practices related to data protection and confidentiality, please look at the ‘See Also’ section below.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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