INTRODUCTION: HARROWING JOURNEYS AND UNSPEAKABLE SUFFERING
Protracted violent conflicts, devastating climate events, entrenched economic inequality, relentless persecution and crime, and other complex problems with no easy solutions drive millions of people every year to go in search of a safer and more dignified life. Among them are children, some with their families, but many without. These children face harrowing journeys and risk unspeakable suffering.
The number of children on the move, including those traveling alone, has grown substantially and alarmingly in the past decade. In 2017, it was estimated that at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated child migrants were in transit in 80 countries6 – a five-fold increase from five years earlier. The number of children migrating alone worldwide right now is likely much higher.
In 2017, 60 per cent of the children who arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria following dangerous and life-threatening journeys were unaccompanied or separated, nearly double the figure reported in 20168 – another staggering increase, providing a hint at the scale and scope of the problem.
Children on the move are easy prey for abusers, exploiters and traffickers and their vulnerability puts them at high risk of sexual and gender-based violence at every stage of their migratory path. When children are in transit alone, they are at very high risk of being assaulted, sexually abused, raped, trafficked into sexual exploitation or forced into “survival sex”.
This study seeks to improve understanding of the risks and types of sexual and gender-based violence faced by children who migrate on their own, as well as the unfortunate and widespread gaps in protection and assistance for these children. It looks closely at the situation in dangerous or remote locations – places that are fragile, conflict-ridden, underserved and hard to reach, where children may be particularly vulnerable.
The study also identifies actions that are urgently needed, by governments and humanitarian organizations, to better protect and assist children migrating on their own and reduce the risk of sexual and gender-based violence, as called for in the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
The study draws on interviews with specialists from a number of humanitarian agencies, an extensive literature review, and research missions to Afghanistan, Honduras, Niger and Turkey. Importantly it also draws heavily on the experience of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and staff in Benin, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia and Zimbabwe.
Publication date: 05/12/2018
Document status: Final