Children on the move

© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1393/Pirozzi
A teacher (centre) helps students in a 'catch-up' class at a primary school in the village of Muraba, Eastern Province, Rwanda. Almost 200 previously out-of-school students attend the classes at the school, most of them were working children.

The situation

Child migration occurs all over the world and each region has its own particular patterns and context. In Eastern and Southern Africa, children on the move are becoming a growing concern. This is particularly true in Southern Africa where there has been a long tradition of labour migration and population movements, impacted more recently by civil unrest and poverty that has been exacerbated by the worldwide economic downturn.

On average, around 2,500 children from Zimbabwe are deported from South Africa every month, and children also make up a significant number of the approximately 7,000 Mozambicans deported from there. At the same time, children from the Horn of Africa countries Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia are moving to the Arabian Peninsula to take up poorly paid jobs, while many children from Madagascar and Comoros end up in the Middle East as domestic servants.

Girls and women make up a large portion of the migrant population and are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation during the entire migration process.

Trafficking and migration are two very distinct phenomena, however, where overlaps exist, the linkages are quite pronounced. Traffickers often use the “irregular” status of migrants to control them, and children are frequently among the most vulnerable victims.


In response to the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe in late 2008, UNICEF in South Africa provided emergency assistance to children on the move, both in the border region and in areas where they congregated in central Johannesburg. This expanded to a capacity-building programme with the Department of Social Development to improve systems of care and protection of migrant children.

Within this framework, standard operating procedures have been developed and disseminated to social workers and information systems have been established to identify, document, trace, and reunify unaccompanied children with their families. As a result, hundreds of children were able to get an education and placement in appropriate alternative care.

In Madagascar, UNICEF supported the development of an action plan to repatriate girls and women trafficked to the Middle East to work as domestic servants. In Ethiopia, UNICEF is working with other agencies on the repatriation and reintegration of migrant children from the Middle East.



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More on child protection

Related links

What we do: Children on the move

Facts on children: Children on the move