Family separation during crisis
All children have the right to grow up safe with their parents, caregivers or loved ones.
All children have the right to grow up with their families. Children in family environments are generally safer and better cared for, yet violent conflicts, natural disasters and other crises force thousands of girls and boys from their parents and caregivers each year.
Some children are separated from their families during the chaos of a humanitarian emergency. Others may be pulled away by parties involved in a violent conflict.
Children may be separated from their families for hours, days, months – even years. Those who receive early support in tracing their relatives are more likely to be reunified faster.
However they are separated, children suffer indescribable stress when split from their loved ones. Separation undermines children’s mental health, physical health and development. What’s more, it leaves them vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse.
Without knowing whom to trust, where to turn for help, or when they may be reunited, children can endure extreme fear and confusion. Those who face long-term separation may also miss out on education and proper medical care – essential to help them cope with distress.
UNICEF works around the world to prevent family separation by helping families and communities identify vulnerable children before crisis strikes – and planning for reunification if the worst happens.
We work with partners to reunite separated children with their families as quickly as possible once it is safe to do so – recognizing that the longer a separation lasts, the greater a child’s risk of exposure to violence, abuse and exploitation.
In situations of emergency, UNICEF and other trained humanitarian partners establish locations where lost children can be brought, identified and provided immediate care and safety.
Once a child is safe, we help ensure that information about her circumstances and family is immediately gathered and documented, in order to trace family links and support the reunification process. While the family tracing process is underway, children may be living with extended family or other appropriate guardians. Occasionally, centre-based care is necessary at the height of an emergency.
Throughout this process, UNICEF and partners provide case management, psychosocial support and other services necessary to meet the needs of unaccompanied children.
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Last updated 3 September 2020