The European Union, UNICEF and UNHCR join efforts to protect children on the move in Central America, Mexico and Southern Africa

02 February 2021

BRUSSELS/JOHANNESBURG/NAIROBI – The European Union (EU), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency have announced today the launch of the new EU Global Promotion of Best Practices for Children in Migration programme to strengthen child protection systems and provide alternatives to immigration detention.

This multi-country programme, with a total budget of €7.5 million, has received €7 million from the EU and is being implemented across four countries in two regions: El Salvador and Mexico in Latin America; South Africa and Zambia in Southern Africa. Over the course of the 30-month programme, UNICEF and UNHCR will jointly work with national governments; local authorities with portfolios of child protection and social welfare, home affairs and justice; civil society organizations and other stakeholders around three key goals for children.

Firstly, the programme will ensure that the capacity of child protection systems to include gender responsive services and alternative care options to immigration detention is enhanced. Secondly, that the capacity of frontline actors to detect children on the move suffering from, or at risk of, gender-based violence and to refer them to appropriate alternative family and community care is increased. And, thirdly, that lessons learned and best practices on programming for children on the move are documented and shared to contribute to strengthened south-south and global cooperation.

Welcoming the launch of the programme, Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, said:

“Children should always be treated first and foremost as children, regardless of their migration status. They have the right to be protected and to live in a safe environment. This includes having access to education, healthcare and sanitation, social and legal services, and psychological support. In partnership with UNICEF and UNHCR, the European Union is reaching out especially to children affected by immigration detention.”

“Children on the move face a variety of risks in the countries of origin, transit and destination. They are exposed to multiple vulnerabilities including immigration detention, kidnapping, separation from parents and care givers, violence, exploitation and abuse; with increased risks for girls,” said Mohamed M. Malick Fall, Regional Director for UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa.

“In an era where COVID-19 has jeopardized access to services, these children are now even more vulnerable. Our joint programme will address the impact that immigration detention has on children’s mental health and wellbeing; and critically, the increased risks of child rights violations,” he said.

“This project is a crucial opportunity for all actors involved in the protection of children on the move to work better together. These boys and girls face specific risks requiring tailored, gender specific, and child sensitive responses. Children should not be detained,” said Grainne O’Hara, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection.

“Having fled from violence and persecution, children too often face further abuse, neglect and exploitation on their journey or at their destination. With this programme, we hope that safe alternative care arrangements will be strengthened and that children at risk are quickly identified and receive the attention they urgently need,” she said

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs dataset on migration show that in 2019 the number of international migrants in Eastern and Southern Africa and Central America stood at 12.3 million and 1.9 million respectively. The EU Global Promotion of Best Practices for Children in Migration programme will ensure that children in the four countries, particularly those impacted by immigration detention, are supported with child protection focused services.

Media contacts

Gesine Knolle
Press Officer for International Partnerships
European Commission
Tel: +32 2 295 43 23
Priscilla Ofori-Amanfo
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa
Tel: +254 740 027 066

About the European Union

The European Union (EU) invests significant resources to deliver life-changing programmes for children in many countries, and has adopted policies and frameworks to promote their rights. The European Commission is the executive body of the EU. Its department for International Partnerships works with partner countries to reduce poverty, ensure sustainable development, and promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. For more information, visit


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. We deliver life-saving assistance such as shelter, food and water, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. We also work to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality. For more information about UNHCR, visit