Standing in solidarity with child migrants

A child in a JRS after school programme, northern Ethiopia (Christian Fuchs/JRS USA))
A child in a JRS after school programme, northern Ethiopia (Christian Fuchs/JRS USA))

The Jesuit Refugee Service has added its voice to an international call by Catholic agencies to governments to guarantee the protection and safety of child migrants, ahead of Universal Children's Day this Sunday (20 November).  The organisations – which include Caritas Internationalis and Pax Christi International – say they stand in solidarity with all children on the move whose rights to live, learn and flourish are compromised.

“We are living a critical moment in history when the doors to asylum are slamming shut around the world,” says JRS. “Moreover, the failure of nations to address root causes of flight - such as conflict, poverty and environmental degradation - causes more and more people to flee. This has an inevitable impact on the well-being and protection of displaced children.”

A recent report by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, concluded that one in every 200 children in the world is growing up as a refugee and that more than a third of the 31 million children living outside their countries of birth are forcibly displaced. Quoting Pope Francis’ message for the 2017 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, JRS and the other organisations urge governments “to adopt every possible measure to guarantee the protection and safety of child migrants,” saying that, in this time of epic human displacement, “children constitute the most vulnerable group because, as they face the life ahead of them, they are invisible and voiceless.”

Each person is precious

In their appeal to governments, the Catholic organisations that work with refugees identify a number of specific actions that they say should be taken. These include ensuring that children have the space to grow up in peace and safety by putting in place protection mechanisms; employing better asylum policies; and promoting alternatives to detention. They also urge governments to adopt and implement laws that curb demand for trafficking and protect child migrants from all forms of exploitation.

All child migrants, even those who may not meet the refugee definition according to the 1951 Convention, should be protected, JRS says, reminding governments that Pope Francis describes each individual as “precious”. “Persons are more important than things,” he said, “and the worth of an institution is measured by the way it treats the life and dignity of human beings, particularly as when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.”

The statement points out that migrant and refugee children, are invisible to the world and an easy target for smugglers, traffickers and sexual abuse, particularly when they travelling unaccompanied. “They are most at risk of exploitation and abuse,” it says, “including recruitment into militias or criminal groups, and being victims of organ trafficking, child sex trafficking, child labour and early marriage.”

In addition to JRS, Caritas Internationalis and Pax Christi International, the statement was also signed by the Department for Promoting Integral Human Development of the Holy See, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), the Union of Superior Generals, Scalabrinian Missionaries and the Scalabrini International Migration Network.