Olivier Feynerol,
Head of Tdh's Migration Programme

"The question involves discovering how to improve the present and the future of hundreds of thousands of children, for whom mobility has become a necessary step in the absence of a developmental perspective capable of changing their daily lives."

For the past two decades, Terre des hommes has been working in West Africa to help improve the living conditions of vulnerable children who are victims of trafficking and child labour. In the early 2000s, the issue of migration first emerged in this region when it became apparent that the majority of children who left the farms migrated by choice or were placed with a guardian by their parents, with the aim of improving their future or that of their family.

While Europe has been experiencing a “migration crisis” since 2015 fueled in part by an upsurge in illegal migration, the question arises for EU states about how to reduce the scale of these international migrations. For child protection organisations, the question involves discovering how to improve the present and the future of hundreds of thousands of children and young people, for whom mobility has become a necessary step in the absence of a developmental perspective capable of changing their daily lives and their chances for the future in a significant, lasting way.  

In order to answer these two questions, Tdh suggests investing in the protective accompaniment of children and young people who move within the framework of internal or regional migrations, rather than focusing solely on the international migrations towards North Africa and Europe.

Protective accompaniment of children and young people

In itself, the mobility of children and young people is neither positive nor negative. The problem lies more so in the vulnerability of children and young people before, during and after migration. There are many different reasons as to why they may move, and many reasons may be legitimate. However, too often children and young people on the move are victims of abuse and exploitation, and their rights are seriously violated. Therefore, it is a question of reducing the attacks on the well-being and rights of children during their migration, without losing sight of the opportunities that migration can offer.

In this context, social integration through education, professional development, the reinforcement of social bonds and the support of children and young people in their search for their own identity are all important steps. The goal is to act in the best interests of the child, whether it is to prevent risks or to allow them to take advantage of opportunities.

Protecting children and young people affected by migration requires strengthening the collaboration between institutional and community actors. This approach focuses on and strengthens the child’s protective environment, wherever the child may be, throughout all stages of their migration journey. Care must be taken to maintain a chain of actors capable of following, supervising, and supporting the child.

Proposing solutions

If children and young people find solutions to their structural problems through forms of internal mobility within their own country or region, they will not take the risk of engaging in migration to the North, which is much more dangerous, expensive and uncertain. Protecting these individuals by considering their economic, social and cultural realities is certainly more effective than systematically trying to prevent them from migrating. In order to avoid this foreseeable scenario, it is urgent to revise this anti-migration approach and replace it with a more comprehensive, balanced and constructive one, linking migration and development while making children and young migrants active players in their own protection and that of their peers.