Guidelines for the protection of displaced refugee children and children inside and outside Ukraine
How authorities and humanitarian workers can help so that children displaced by the conflict in Ukraine are safe from human trafficking and other forms of exploitation and abuse
The conflict in Ukraine has forced millions of people to flee their homes - some seeking safety in other parts of the country, others in neighboring countries. About half of those displaced are children. Many are unaccompanied or separated from their families.
Refugee children inside and outside Ukraine are at increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse.
- What risks are refugee children facing because of the conflict in Ukraine?
- Are some of these children unaccompanied?
- What happens to children in institutional care?
- What is the risk of human trafficking?
- Information on risks of human trafficking for Ukrainian children while in Serbia
- How can volunteers help protect children from human trafficking?
- What should neighbouring countries do to protect unaccompanied children?
- What are Blue Dots?
- What UNICEF is doing to protect children displaced and separated from their families?
1. What risks are refugee children facing because of the conflict in Ukraine?
Whenever children are forced to leave their homes because of conflict, their exposure to danger increases. In addition to the risk of being wounded or killed by weapons or blasts, displaced children also face many challenges as they travel. As the conflict escalates, they have little or no capacity to run on safe routes alone or with their families. They may find themselves in a situation of violence, cut off from vital medical care, clean water and food. They may be subjected to human trafficking, forced labour or illegal smuggling. Displaced women and girls are at particular risk of gender-based violence when seeking shelter or refuge.
The conflict in Ukraine has a devastating impact on children. UNICEF is on the ground in Ukraine and neighboring countries, increasing life-saving support for children and their families.
2. Are some of these children unaccompanied?
Many refugee children inside and outside Ukraine are unaccompanied or separated from their parents and other family members. Almost 100,000 children in Ukraine live in institutions – children's homes or boarding houses, at the time of the escalation of the crisis. Almost half of them are children with disabilities.
Children without parental care are at increased risk of violence, abuse and exploitation. When these children move beyond the borders of the country, the risks multiply. During emergencies, the risk of human trafficking also increases.
3. What happens to children in institutional care?
Almost 100,000 children, half of whom are disabled, live in institutional care or boarding houses in Ukraine. Many of these children have living relatives or guardians.
While institutions try to bring children to safety in neighbouring countries or other countries, it is critical to take special measures in the best interests of children and to ensure that the consent of the parents or people responsible for them is obtained. Moving children to safety should not hinder opportunities to reunite them with the family in the future. Under no circumstances should families be separated as a result of relocation or evacuation.
4. What is the risk of human trafficking?
As families go to or transit through neighbouring countries, they may find it difficult to find help to trust. Thousands of volunteers support refugees at border crossings and guide them. However, this mass display of care, especially among unregistered volunteers, also allows for cover for illegal groups, such as human traffickers, who present themselves under false pretenses for people who want to help.
Many refugees – the majority of whom are children and women – arrive in neighbouring countries because they are forced. They are hungry, exhausted and scared. They may not speak the local language. Amid the chaos and confusion, they can be exploited by traffickers or other undercover groups who claim to want to direct them to services (such as registration, shelter, health care, education, etc.).
Children who are unaccompanied or separated from their families are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. For women and girls, especially those travelling alone, gender-based violence, which also involves trafficking for sexual exploitation, is a real threat.
The risks of abduction, trafficking for sale and exploitation and illegal adoption of children are greater in places where there are, in principle, violations of the rights of the child or the presence of large numbers of people crossing borders.
5. Information on risks of human trafficking for Ukrainian children while in Serbia
You are meeting a lot of new people and it is not easy to know who to trust. Some people you meet may seem kind at the beginning, but also may want to harm you, tell you lies or make you feel bad.
Don’t be afraid to speak up even if you feel scared: no matter where you come from, you have the right to be protected from violence.
- Do not give your documents or your phone to anyone, except uniformed officials
- Do not give money to anybody for their help, for a place to live or transportation
- If you travel with someone, ask them to show you a document with their photo and name, and to tell you the address of where they will drive you; write down those details or take a photo with your mobile phone; write down their car registration plates
- Tell a family member or friend where you are going, who you are going with, and what their car registration plates are
- If you have a bad feeling and don’t feel comfortable, do not go with that person.
f you are in Serbia and you need help contact at any time day or night Police on +381 192
or Center for Protection of Victims of Trafficking firstname.lastname@example.org +38163610590
6. How can volunteers help protect children from human trafficking?
There are thousands of volunteers in and around host communities welcoming and directing refugees to safety. Many are not registered, act in good faith to direct families to registration places and other vital services. Aiding people at border crossings can also provide cover for traffickers and other malicious individuals who intend to exploit women and children fleeing conflict. It may be impossible for refugees under stress and coercion, especially unaccompanied children, to distinguish traffickers from those who really offer help.
If you are an unregistered volunteer offering assistance, follow these protection guidelines if you come across a child who is alone:
- Do not immediately assume that the child is lost. Make sure the child is unaccompanied or has been separated from his or her family. Do not separate the child from parents, siblings or other family members with whom the child has traveled.
- Since the adult caring for the child may be around, ask the refugees nearby if they know the child. Don't abandon the child. Unless there is an imminent threat, stay with the child in the same place until you understand the whereabouts of the carer and until you are sure that the child is in safe hands.
- Under no circumstances do you leave the child with another volunteer. Don't take help from another volunteer who offered to take him to safety.
- If after the steps above you make sure that the child is unaccompanied or separated from his family, ask the child about the name, age, hometown and information about the child's family. Record any additional information that may help authorities locate the family and reunite them with the child. If the child cannot provide this information, ask the other refugees traveling with the child what they know.
- Keep the child's clothes and accessories at his/her all the time. This could help authorities find the family.
- Contact a competent institution, such as the local municipality, border police, Ukraine's consular services in the host country or UNICEF representatives. Share your child's information and whereabouts and follow the instructions from the relevant institution. Don't leave the child alone.
- Do not share information about the child with anyone other than the competent authorities.
- Explain to the child what will happen next. Do not promise that you will find his/her parents – this can cause further confusion and stress if instead of your promise the child is passed on to a competent institution/child protection specialist.
- Do not leave the child alone until it has been entrusted to a competent child protection institution/specialist. Don't leave the child with anyone else.
7. What should neighbouring countries do to protect unaccompanied children
UNICEF, together with the UN Refugee Agency, calls on all neighbouring and affected countries to ensure immediate identification and registration of unaccompanied and separated children fleeing Ukraine after providing them with access to their territory.
For children who are displaced outside the country without their families, temporary foster care or other community-based care through the government system offers protection. Adoptions should not take place during or immediately after emergencies. Every effort must be made to make sure that children can be reunited with their families whenever possible, if the reunion is in the best interests of the child.
To protect all children from exploitation and abuse, states must offer safe places for families as soon as they cross the border and link them to national child protection systems. The current crisis situation also requires a rapid expansion of emergency care capacity with elderly carers who have undergone screening, as well as other critical child protection services, including against gender-based violence, as well as mechanisms for tracking and reuniting separated families. This is essential for unaccompanied and separated children who need temporary care while efforts are being made to reunite the family. According to UNICEF guidelines, care in a family environment and in a community should be encouraged in these circumstances and institutional care should only be used as a last resort and for the shortest possible period of time.
In particular, neighbouring and affected countries must:
- Introduce and strengthen the identification processes for unaccompanied and separated children at the borders, including monitoring of vans and buses transporting multiple children.
- Set up and strengthen safe spaces for children at border crossing points and other strategic locations, including by providing social workers and child psychologists to support children.
- To include safe spaces in national child protection systems and to rapidly expand the capacity of emergency alternative care in a family environment and other vital child protection and countering gender-based violence, including tracking and reuniting separated families.
- Implement child protection procedures to prevent violence, exploitation and abuse of children while on the move, procedures for providing care and tracking to families.
8. What are Blue Dots?
Jointly separated by UNICEF and the UN Refugee Agency and local authorities and partners, the Child and Family Support Centres are safe spaces along migration routes that provide children and families with vital information and services. These safe spaces aim to ensure that families are aware of their rights as refugees and help them access health care, education, psychological support, etc. They identify and register children who travel alone and connect them with the protection services. The centres also offer referrals to services for women, including in relation to gender-based violence.
UNICEF, together with the UN Refugee Agency and local authorities and partners, is increasing the number of these specialised centres in Moldova, Romania, Poland and Belarus to protect refugee children at risk of exploitation and abuse.
9. What UNICEF is doing to protect children displaced and separated from their families?
- Providing humanitarian assistance in areas affected by the conflict – including medical supplies, surgical equipment, obstetric kits and oxygen concentrators, and supplies of clean drinking water and hygiene kits.
- Support for mobile teams to provide psycho-social support, support for children's mental health and protection services.
- Separation of safe spaces for children and women at border crossing points with neighbouring countries in order to provide critically important information and services to refugees, as well as to identify and register unaccompanied children.
- Support to national and local partners in Ukraine and neighbouring countries in cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency and other humanitarian agencies.
- Continue efforts and support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.