Childhood challenged

A visual perspective on children affected by mass migration.

Presented by World Press Photo and UNICEF
22 November 2019

To mark the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the World Press Photo Foundation and UNICEF jointly present a selection of stories showing the impact of mass migration on children, awarded in the World Press Photo Contests from 2016 – 2019.

Thirty years ago, world leaders made a promise to every child to promote and protect their rights by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – an international agreement on childhood. The Convention became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Since then, governments across the world have taken action to ensure that more children survive and develop to their full potential.

Thirty years on, child rights have not changed – they have no expiry date. But childhood has changed. The rise of digital technology, environmental changes and mass migration are creating new threats for children. For too many children, migration is not a choice but a necessity.

More than 30 million children in the world today have moved across borders.

Migration has been omnipresent in the news and is a recurrent theme in the recent World Press Photo contests. Through different perspectives, these curated stories draw attention to the physical, emotional and psychological impact of mass migration on children from various parts of the world. It highlights the importance of protecting the rights of every child, wherever they are.


Pedro Pardo, Agence France-Presse

Central American migrants climb the border fence between Mexico and the United States, near El Chaparral border crossing, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, on 25 November 2018.


Kevin Frayer, Getty Images
Kevin Frayer, Getty Images
Kevin Frayer, Getty Images
Kevin Frayer, Getty Images
Kevin Frayer, Getty Images

Attacks on the villages of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and the burning of their homes, led to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing into Bangladesh on foot or by boat. Many died in the attempt. More than half of those fleeing were children. In Bangladesh, refugees were housed in existing camps and makeshift settlements. Conditions became critical; basic services came under severe pressure and most people lacked clean water, shelter and sanitation, bringing the threat of disease.

First (left to right): Minara Hassan and her husband Ekramul lie exhausted on the ground on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River, after fleeing their home in Maungdaw, Myanmar. 2 October 2017.

Second: A Rohingya woman with a disability is carried by fleeing relatives on the Bangladesh side of the border with Myanmar. 2 October 2017.

Third: A Rohingya refugee is helped from a boat as she arrives at Shah Porir Dwip, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 1 October 2017.

Fourth: Rohingya refugees carry their belongings as they walk on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River after fleeing Myanmar. 2 October 2017.

Fifth: A young refugee cries as he climbs on a truck distributing aid near the Balukhali refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 20 September 2017.


Ivor Prickett, for The New York Times
Ivor Prickett, for The New York Times
Ivor Prickett, for The New York Times
Ivor Prickett, for The New York Times
Ivor Prickett, for The New York Times

On 10 July 2017, after months of intense fighting, the Iraqi government announced it had retaken control of Mosul from ISIS. More than one million people were newly-displaced after the military operations to retake the city began in October 2016. Families had very little food and water, and few options to escape. Large areas of the city were left in ruins, and huge numbers of civilians were caught in the crossfire as battle raged.

First (left to right): Civilians line up for aid distribution in the Mamun neighborhood of west Mosul, Iraq. 15 March 2017.

Second: A woman in the Jidideh neighborhood of west Mosul screams out shortly after a mortar attack killed her son. 22 March 2017.

Third: Iraqi Special Forces soldiers survey the aftermath of an attack by an ISIS suicide car bomber, who managed to reach their lines in the Andalus neighborhood, one of the last areas to be liberated in eastern Mosul. 16 January 2017.

Fourth: An unidentified young boy, who was carried out of the last ISIS-controlled area of the Old City by a man suspected of being a militant, is washed and cared for by Iraqi Special Forces soldiers. The soldiers suspected that the man had used the boy as a human shield in order to try to escape, as he did not know the child’s name. 12 July 2017.

Fifth: Nadhira Aziz looks on after west Mosul had been retaken and Iraqi Civil Defense workers excavate the remains of her sister and niece from her house in the Old City where they were killed by an airstrike in June. She sat in her chair just meters from the site and refused to move, directing the driver of the excavator and shouting to men to retrieve items she spotted in the debris. 16 September 2017.


Laurent Van der Stockt, Getty Images Reportage for Le Monde

A girl stands outside as members of a counter-terrorism battalion of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces search homes in Gogjali, an eastern suburb of Mosul, Iraq, during an offensive to liberate the city. Gogjali was retaken in early November, and most of Eastern Mosul by the end of January 2017.


Pieter Ten Hoopen, Agence Vu/Civilian Act
Pieter Ten Hoopen, Agence Vu/Civilian Act
Pieter Ten Hoopen, Agence Vu/Civilian Act
Pieter Ten Hoopen, Agence Vu/Civilian Act
Pieter Ten Hoopen, Agence Vu/Civilian Act
Pieter Ten Hoopen, Agence Vu/Civilian Act

In October and November 2018, thousands of migrants in Central America joined a caravan traveling north. Many of the children and families in the caravan were fleeing gang and gender-based violence, extortion, poverty and limited access to quality education and social services in their home countries of northern Central America – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

First (left to right): People run to a truck that has stopped to give them a ride, outside Tapanatepec, Mexico, on 30 October 2018. Some drivers charged to give travelers a lift for part of the way, but most offered services free as a sign of support.

Second: People board a truck offering a lift, on the outskirts of Tapanatepec, Mexico. 29 October 2018.

Third: Travelers with a migrant caravan camp outside a bus station in Juchitán, Mexico. 31 October 2018.

Fourth: A father and son sleep after a long day walking, Juchitán, 30 October 2018. 

Fifth: Families bathe, wash clothes and relax beside the Rio Novillero, when the caravan takes a rest day near Tapanatepec. 29 October 2018.

Sixth: A girl pick flowers during the day’s walk from Tapanatepec to Niltepec, a distance of 50 km. 29 October 2018.


Dario Mitidieri for CAFOD

A Syrian family in a refugee camp in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon, stands beside a chair representing a missing family member. 15 December 2015. 


John Moore, Getty Images

Honduran toddler Yanela Sanchez cries as she and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, are taken into custody by border officials in McAllen, Texas, United States.
Every day, children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico leave their homes and communities to set off on the perilous journey northward, driven by the threat of violence, facing political repression and violence, and fleeing harsh economic conditions in the hope of a better life. Along the way they face the constant threat of exploitation or detention – a threat that continues if they make it across the border. And if they do return home, they often find their circumstances worse than when their journey began.


Lorenzo Tugnoli, Contrasto, for The Washington Post
Lorenzo Tugnoli, Contrasto, for The Washington Post
Lorenzo Tugnoli, Contrasto, for The Washington Post
Lorenzo Tugnoli, Contrasto, for The Washington Post

Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 per cent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. 

First (left to right): A woman begs outside a grocery store in Azzan, a pivotal southern crossroads town that had seesawed back and forth between government and insurgent forces in Yemen, on 22 May 2018.

Second: Taif Fares gasps for air in the intensive-care unit at al-Sadaqa hospital, Aden, Yemen, on 21 May 2018. She had a heart disorder and required constant care. Supplies of oxygen and medicine to the hospital had been discontinued, and, on 14 May, a violent confrontation between a member of the militia controlling the hospital and a doctor had led to doctors going on strike. Taif died a few days after the photograph was taken.

Third: Wafa Ahmed Hathim, 25, lost her left leg when a mortar landed on her house in the strategically important Red Sea port of Hudaydah on 8 December – at a time when long-negotiated peace talks were taking place in Sweden. 

Fourth: A militiaman stands in a frontline position outside the besieged city of Taiz, southwestern Yemen, on 26 November 2018. Aid and supplies could be delivered to the city only along a road under the control of the Saudi coalition.


Magnus Wennman
Magnus Wennman
Magnus Wennman
Magnus Wennman
Magnus Wennman
Magnus Wennman

Refugee children, on their long journey to a new home, sleep where they can along the route.

First (left to right): Fara, 2, loves soccer. Her father tries to make balls for her by crumpling up anything he can find, but they don’t last long. 4 February 2015.

Second: Ahmed, 6, falls asleep in the grass after midnight. He carries his own bag on the stretches of the journey that the family covers on foot. His uncle, who has taken care of him since his father was killed in their hometown in northern Syria, says Ahmed is brave and cries only occasionally in the evenings. 28 August 2015. 

Third: Ralia, 7, and Rahaf, 13, sleep on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. A grenade killed their mother and brother in Damascus, Syria. They are with their father, and have been sleeping outside for a year. 8 February 2015.

Fourth: Mohammed, 13, dreams of being an architect. He used to enjoy walking around Aleppo, Syria, looking at houses. Now, many of his favorite buildings have been blown to pieces. He says the strangest thing about war is that you get used to being scared. 3 March 2015.

Fifth: Lamar, from Baghdad, Iraq, sleeps on a blanket in a forest. After two attempts at crossing the sea from Turkey in a small dinghy, her family has come as far as Serbia to find the border with Hungary closed. 15 September 2015.

Sixth: Walaa, 5, in a refugee camp in Lebanon, is distressed at night because that is when attacks happened when she was at home in Aleppo, Syria. 10 February 2015.


Matic Zorman

Refugee children covered in rain capes wait in line to be registered. Most refugees who crossed into Serbia continued their journey north, towards countries of the European Union. 7 October 2015.


Paula Bronstein, Getty Images Reportage for Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Najiba holds her nephew Shabir, 2, who was injured in a bomb blast that killed his sister, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in March. The bomb exploded in a relatively peaceful part of Kabul while Shabir’s mother was walking the children to school.

The ongoing conflict and rapidly deteriorating security situation across the country left more than 1,000 schools closed by the end of 2018. A generation of children have known nothing but war.


Warren Richardson

A baby is handed through a hole in a razor wire barrier to a Syrian refugee who has already managed to cross the border from Serbia into Hungary, near Röszke. 28 August 2015.

In July, Hungary began construction on a four-meter-high barrier fence along the entire length of the frontier with Serbia, to close off border crossings through all but official routes. Refugees attempted to find ways through before the fence was completed on 14 September. This group had spent four hours hiding in an apple orchard at night, dodging border police, being gassed with pepper spray, and trying to find a way across.


Patrick Brown, Panos Pictures, for UNICEF

The bodies of Rohingya refugees are laid out after the boat in which they were attempting to flee Myanmar capsized about eight kilometers off Inani Beach, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Around 100 people were on the boat before it capsized. There were 17 survivors.



Santi Palacios, The Associated Press

An 11-year-old girl (left) from Nigeria, comforts her younger brother aboard a rescue boat after they had been picked up from an overcrowded dinghy in the Mediterranean Sea, en route to Italy, about 23 kilometers north of Sabratha, Libya, on 28 July 2016. Their mother had died in Libya, after crossing the Sahara.  



Magnus Wennman, The New Yorker

Djeneta (right) has been bedridden and unresponsive for two-and-a-half years, and her sister Ibadeta for more than six months, with uppgivenhetssyndrom (resignation syndrome), in Horndal, Sweden. Resignation syndrome is a condition believed to exist only amongst refugees in Sweden. The causes are unclear, but trauma, stress and depression are thought to be contributors.


Mauricio Lima for Al Jazeera America

Children play in the Tapajós River, home to the Munduruku people, in the Brazilian Amazon. 10 February 2015. The Munduruku is one of the largest ethnic groups in Brazil and for at least three centuries its people have lived along the Tapajós River.

The Tapajós is one of the last great Amazonian rivers without a dam, but construction plans threaten the Munduruku's way of life.

Bulent Kilic
Bulent Kilic
Bulent Kilic
Bulent Kilic

After eight years of conflict, the Syria crisis continues to have a huge impact on children inside Syria, across the region and beyond. Children in Syria have been impacted by the violence, displacement, severed family ties and lack of access to vital services.

In June 2015, fighting in northern Syria, between members of the so-called Islamic State and a coalition of Kurdish and opposition militia, led to a sharp increase in border crossings into Turkey, as civilians fled both airstrikes and ground battles. UNHCR said that in June 2015, fighting in the region led to more than 24,000 refugees fleeing into Turkey from northern Syria, with some 70 per cent of those being women and children. 

First (left to right): People cross into Turkey through a broken fence, near the official border crossing at Akçakale. Akçakale and the Syrian town of Tel Abyad are directly adjacent to each other, with the border running through the middle. 14 June 2015.

Second: People cross into Turkey through a broken fence near the official border crossing. 14 June 2015.

Third: People cross into Turkey through a broken fence near the official border crossing. 14 June 2015.

Fourth: People run from a water cannon fired by Turkish soldiers to keep them away from border fences. 13 June 2015.



UNICEF works in the world’s toughest places to reach the most disadvantaged children and adolescents – and to protect the rights of every child, everywhere. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we do whatever it takes to help children survive, thrive and fulfill their potential, from early childhood through adolescence.

And we never give up.  

UNICEF, for every child.

World Press Photo Foundation is a global platform connecting professionals and audiences through trustworthy visual journalism and storytelling, founded in 1955 when a group of Dutch photographers organized a contest (“World Press Photo”) to expose their work to an international audience. Since then, our mission has expanded and the World Press Photo Foundation has been working from its home in Amsterdam as an independent, nonprofit organization. The Photo Contest has grown into the world’s most prestigious annual photography competition and in 2011 the Digital Storytelling Contest was launched as a way to reward forms of visual storytelling evolving out of a changing media economy. Through our successful worldwide exhibition program, we present to millions of people the stories that matter. Today we draw on our experience to guide visual journalists, storytellers, and audiences around the world. We appreciate the support of our global partner, the Dutch Postcode Lottery.

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