Children uprooted

Migrant and displaced children are children first. They have rights and deserve protection.

A child is carried in a suitcase, Syrian Arab Republic

The challenge

Millions of children are on the move. Some are driven from their homes by conflict, poverty or disaster; others are migrating in the hope of finding a better, safer life. Far too many encounter danger, detention, deprivation and discrimination on their journeys.

It shouldn’t have to be this way. The suffering and discrimination of migrant children is unacceptable and preventable. A child is a child, no matter why she leaves home, where she comes from or where she is and how she got there. And every child deserves protection, care and all the support and services she needs to thrive. But too often that’s not the case.

Migrant and displaced children face many challenges in transit and at destination, often because many of them have limited options to move through safe pathways and with their families. They often encounter violence, abuse, exploitation or discrimination. They miss out on education and proper medical care. The fact that they are newcomers can hinder their inclusion – especially hard as they try to learn a new language and integrate into a new culture. These difficulties have lasting physical and psychological effects.

Nowhere in the world are children more central to a continent’s future than in Africa. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. With the right policies and practices in place, African states can improve national actions and international cooperation to address the negative drivers forcing children from their homes and protect and respond to the needs and rights of children uprooted – whoever they are and wherever they are. The share of children among Africa’s migrants and displaced populations is currently the largest for any region – nearly one in four international migrants in Africa is a child, more than twice the global average.

 The Global Compact

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a landmark agreement that recognizes for the first time that children are central to migration management. It proves that UNICEF’s six-point Agenda for Action is doable and provides a framework to bring it to life. UNICEF actively participated in the 18 months of negotiations that led to the final document – including the involvement of young migrants in discussions. The compact was adopted at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakech, Morocco in December, 2018.

The solution

Children around the world, regardless of where they’re from and why they’ve left their homes, should be treated the same.

Children should feel safe from violence and exploitation. They should be able to stay with their families. They shouldn’t have to miss school or not be able to go to the doctor. They shouldn’t fear xenophobia or discrimination. They should be able to feel at home – wherever home is.

UNICEF works around the world to help make sure migrant and refugee children are protected and that their rights are respected. We provide lifesaving humanitarian supplies in refugee camps. We run child-friendly spaces – safe places where migrant and refugee children can play, where mothers can rest and feed their babies in private, where separated families can reunite. We support national and local governments to put in place laws, policies, systems and public services that are inclusive of refugee and migrant children, address their specific needs and help them thrive.  We collect, analyse and disseminate data. We help keep families together and provide support to family-based solutions that are alternatives to the detention of migrant and displaced children. We work with governments, the private sector and civil society. We want to empower children and youth who are uprooted with cutting-edge solutions, and make their voices heard.

The solutions exist, and they’re attainable. Learn more about our Agenda for Action to support children on the move.


Help UNICEF protect and provide for migrating children 


Voices of migrant and refugee children

From Venezuela to Colombia, Yamileth isn’t alone

Where hope begins around dawn each day

Dreaming of the Ivy League in South Darfur


Child-sensitive return

Many European governments increasingly seek to return migrant children to their countries of origin or transit, but this is often not undertaken in full accordance with international obligations on children’s rights, nor with respect for children’s best interests. This report highlights the human rights obligations and commitments of four governments.

Children "Left Behind"

Millions of children are “left behind” by one parent or both parents migrating to find work, continue their studies, or seek a better life. This UNICEF working paper argues that the link between child well-being, labour and migration policies needs to be clearly established to ensure children “left behind” can reach their full potential.

Alternatives to Immigration Detention of Children

Immigration detention of children is never in their best interests, is a violation of their rights, and should be avoided at all costs. This UNICEF working paper looks at the negative effects of detention on children and offers recommendations for prevention.

Family unity in the context of migration

All children, regardless of their or their parents’ refugee, temporary protection or migration status, have the right to grow up with their families. This working paper looks at why family unity needs to be at the heart of political negotiations.

Protecting and supporting internally displaced children in urban settings

Urban displacement has emerged as a new challenge in meeting the needs of internally displaced children. This report looks at key challenges on the issue.

Equitable access to quality education for internally displaced children

Too many internally displaced children grow up deprived of an education and the long term opportunities it affords. This report looks at some of the challenges and offers recommendations.

Data Snapshot of Migrant and Displaced Children in Africa

More international migrants move within Africa than beyond the continent. This brochure has the latest figures on migrant and refugee populations within Africa.

African Action Agenda for #ChildrenUprooted

By coalescing efforts and investments around the African Agenda for Action for Children and Young People Uprooted, African leaders, civil society, the private sector, multi-lateral partners and young people themselves can unlock and harness the enormous potential that lies in Africa’s children and young people.

A Right to be Heard: Listening to children and young people on the move

As part of a poll conducted in September and October 2018 by UNICEF through U-Report, a social messaging tool for young people, migrant and refugee children provided insights into their experiences leaving their homes.

Children Uprooted: What Local Governments Can Do

Recommendations for concrete actions that local actors can take – and are already taking – to advance the rights of every refugee, migrant and IDP child living under their jurisdiction.

Child Alert: Uprooted in Central America and Mexico

Every day, children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico leave their homes and communities to set off on the perilous journey northward. They risk their lives for the promise of a better future.

Call to action for data

Protecting children on the move starts with better data. Read more about how UNICEF proposes better data on children.


UNICEF paints a global and regional picture of the lives of millions of children and families affected by migration.

Harrowing Journeys

Children and youth on the move across the Mediterranean Sea, at risk of trafficking and exploitation.

Beyond Borders

In this report that compiles good practices and solutions, UNICEF shows that protecting migrant and displaced children is right in principle and practice.