Protecting children affected by migration

A rohingya girl in Bangladesh


Two out of five international child migrants were born in Asia – more than any other region in the world. While migration can benefit children and their families, it can also place children in situations of risk.

This is particularly the case where children are moving outside of safe and legal pathways, and are thus vulnerable to exploitation by smugglers and traffickers; where migrating children are denied access to basic services and to legal recognition by host governments; and where children’s rights are violated in the context of repressive responses to immigration control.

A migrant child is looking at the books during the class break at the Learning Center at Pa Pao Temple, Thailand
A migrant child is looking at the books during the class break at the Learning Center at Pa Pao Temple, Thailand

Children left behind by migrating parents may also find themselves in circumstances of inadequate care and protection. Children outside of their country of origin are too frequently excluded from national child protection systems, as these systems are struggling to be relevant to the growing scale of migration on the continent. 

The challenges presented to children affected by migration are not inherent. They are primarily created by policies, practices, behaviours and attitudes, all of which can be changed. Removing these challenges is a political choice to protect vulnerable children.

Two out of five international child migrants were born in Asia – more than any other region in the world


In the East Asia and Pacific region, UNICEF’s emerging focus on migration complements ongoing programming. It, for example, reinforces its work to advocate for the development of national child protection systems, which are inclusive of all children, including those affected by migration.

This includes strengthening social work as a profession, and the capacity of social workers to address and respond to the needs and rights of children affected by migration.

a teacher uses flash cards during a vocabulary class in a learning centre in Malaysia

Further, UNICEF EAPRO is coordinating the implementation of a cross-regional, multi-country programme, co-funded by the European Union (EU), to ensure that children affected by migration are protected and their rights promoted. Participating countries are as follows:

  • Southeast Asia: Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand
  • South Asia: Bangladesh
  • Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

It is estimated that the programme (start of implementation is July 2018) will reach around 25,000 children affected by migration over the next three years (2018-2021).

The programme aims to reach 25,000 children affected by migration 

Programme aims

Make sure child protection systems are inclusive

  • Child protection systems include children affected by migration, including children left behind
  • Alternatives to detention are established/strengthened
  • Long-term care/status decisions are evidence-based and focus on the best interests of the child                     

Enhance policies and procedures that provide better access to child protection systems 

  • Access to basic services (e.g., education, health) is guaranteed 
  • Policies and procedures to end child immigration detention are in place
  • Registration is enabled and childhood statelessness is addressed
  • Mechanisms for cross-border information sharing on case management, including family tracing and reunification, are established             

Ensure international, regional and national bodies recognize their rights            

  • The rights and protection of migrant children are prioritized in key ASEAN intergovernmental bodies
  • Regional child protection networks on case management and cross-border collaboration are established and operational
  • Data and evidence are available to develop and implement policies
UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Director Karin Hulshof
“While migration can benefit children and their families, too often children affected by migration are pushed to the margins of society. They are cut off from essential services and are vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse, violating their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children affected by migration should be treated first and foremost as children, with the same rights as all other children,” said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director, East Asia and the Pacific.

“UNICEF thanks the European Union for its generous contribution, which will better protect children who are on the move or have been left behind.”