We champion the human rights of children and young people on the move based on evidence from our members’ work and in consultation and collaboration with children and youth.

‘Children on the move’ are moving for a variety of reasons, voluntarily or involuntarily, within or between countries, with or without their parents or other primary caregivers. This movement, while it may open up opportunities, might also place them at risk (or at an increased risk) of economic or sexual exploitation, abuse, neglect and violence.

Protection for all

All children, regardless of their migratory status, have human rights and fundamental freedoms which governments have an obligation to uphold.

More and more children worldwide are moving or affected by migration. Their mobility is often due to a human rights violation. Mobility can create opportunities, bring safety and provide access to services for many children.

But it can also mean new risks and vulnerabilities - both because they are children and because of being on the move. They can be exposed to gender-based violence, abuse, exploitation and trafficking and suffer from discrimination and stigma. They can be separated from their families, detained because of their migration status and deprived of protection and services. Policies and laws are all too often inadequate in protecting them and upholding their rights.

52 %

of all refugees are children

12 %

of migrants worldwide are children

50 million

children have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced

31 million

children live outside their country of origin


No. of children displaced within countries is vast but no global data exists

The rights of children on the move

All children, irrespective of their migration status, have rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  

Some recent developments could offer renewed momentum for ensuring the rights of children on the move are upheld and respected. This includes two new frameworks for governing refugee situations and migration - the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Migration – and guidance for governments from 2 United Nations human rights bodies (the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families) on their obligations regarding the human rights of children in the context of international migration. 

We are making the most of these opportunities to step up our campaigning for sustained change in the lives of children and young people. 

Our principles

We are guided by 9 Recommended Principles for Actions concerning Children on the Move developed by global child rights experts - including from the Destination Unknown community – and endorsed by the UN Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Watch the video in English, French or Spanish.

Children affected by migration should be ensured the same rights as all other children, including birth registration, proof of identity, a nationality and access to education, health care, housing and social protection. Those responsible shall not assume that standard solutions work for all children; rather they are required to conduct individual and family assessments prior to making a durable decision about each child. Children at the border shall not be refused entry without an adequate and individualised analysis of their request and due guarantees consistent with a best interests determination.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 1

Child-friendly spaces in Serbia, Jordan, and in many countries in West Africa which are specifically developed and tailored to the unique needs of children on the move are just one way in which our members work to ensure children are considered children first and their best interests are paramount.

All children have a right to a standard of living adequate for their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, educational and social development. States have a duty to anticipate and prevent harm, including with respect to the triggers of child migration and to invest in robust search and rescue operations to avert harmful migration outcomes, Sustained investment in material and social assistance, and in livelihood opportunities is a critical prerequisite to prevent life threatening journeys and enabling the child to develop.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 2 

From vocational skills development and income-generating activities for children, young people and their families in El Salvador and West Africa, human rights education for refugee families in Greece to campaigning local authorities in Thailand to ensure children can go to school whatever their migration status, our members are committed to ensuring a child’s right to life, survival and development. 


Children have the right to migrate in search of family life, safety or opportunity. In particular, they have a right to flee violence and danger.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 3 

Committed to ensuring children and young people on the move are aware of their rights before, during and following migration, our members educate, raise awareness about risks, and share crucial information on available services and support systems in many countries including El Salvador, Kenya, Mali, Lebanon, and Jordan. Crucially, they don’t only work with children and young people, but also with teachers, community members and leaders and social service providers.

Members provide psychosocial and case management support to children affected by conflict and work to strengthen systems for a protective environment for children and their families in several countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Mali.

States should expeditiously and completely cease detention of migration affected children and allow children to remain with family and/or guardians in non-custodial, community-based contexts while their immigration status is being resolved.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 4 
As a network, we campaign at all levels against the detention of children because of migration status everywhere. Many members work with authorities to provide practical solutions to avoid detention through community-based alternatives to detention that meet a child’s need.

States shall not separate children from their families, for example by instituting onerous and protracted family reunification procedures, denying the portability of accrued social security benefits, detaining irregular migrants accompanied by children, deporting parents of minor citizens, or refusing to allow children to accompany migrant worker parents. Conversely forced expulsion of a child should never be considered an acceptable means of family reunification or assumed automatically to be in the best interests of the child. Any expulsion of a child must be safe, and in the child’s best interests. Where the expulsion concerns a child separated from family, it shall be accompanied and monitored.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 5 

In West Africa and Europe, members support family reunification with parents or extended family members through the case management system.


The criminalisation and stigmatisation of children on the move and other children affected by migration violate this principle. States and other actors should use non-discriminatory terminology when referring to migrants and their children.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 6

We advocate against discriminatory policies and plans of action at global levels. We communicate about the realities and experiences of children on the move. Members conduct sensitisation and awareness raising activities focused on the risks faced by children on the move.

In their design and implementation, national child protection systems shall take into account the distinctive needs and views of children on the move and other children affected by migration. States shall protect children against exploitation, violence, abuse, and other crimes, and against resorting to crime or sexual exploitation to meet their basic needs. States and regional organisations have a responsibility to ensure a continuum of protection between local government authorities and States through which children travel, and to promote harmonised protection practices developed by local communities where appropriate.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 7

We advocate for children on the move to be part of national protection policies.

States shall respect the rights of children guaranteed by international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, including the principle of non-refoulement, and any child specific protection measures. States have a duty to ensure accurate identification of children, to evaluate the impact of laws and policies on children on the move and other children affected by migration and to avoid adverse impacts. Deliberately making transport unsafe to deter migrants from travelling can never be justified. Children require security and stability for healthy development. States that only consider the best interests of the child or grant children authorisation to remain on their territory until age 18 have an adverse impact on children’s rights.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 8

We advocate for child friendly measures and legislation.

States shall ensure that children affected by migration, whether or not in their State of origin, have effective access at all stages of migration to quality information and free of charge legal representation, interpretation, and, if they are unaccompanied or separated, to guardianship.

A snapshot of members’ work in line with principle 9

Members support refugee youth with information and individual support tailored to their specific situation and needs.

Promising practices

Together we can do more to support children and youth on the move. Important lessons can be learnt, and inspiration drawn from rights-based efforts which have made a real positive difference and that can be expanded or replicated elsewhere.

Find out about inspirational work led by our members with children on the move which has reduced risks, created opportunities and improved children’s lives.

Learn more

Stay informed