Samih, 6, is a Syrian child refugee currently living with his family in Lebanon. ©Tdh/Ollivier Girard

Nearly 50 million children are currently on the move, and the many rights violations they are subjected to – from violence and exploitation to being deprived of essential protections and services – constitutes a grave human rights crisis.

As the numbers of migrant and refugee children continue to rise, the need for focused action to support and protect them is a matter of increasing urgency.

Because of this, the Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts, driven by a civil society-led steering committee, aims to develop and strongly advocate for a common approach to children on the move. In particular, the initiative aims to go beyond repeating existing principles and commitments by setting measurable standards by which stakeholders can be held accountable for protecting children on the move.

The initiative is made up of three main steps:

  1. Experts will elaborate on the working document “Child Rights in the Global Compacts,” which will be completed by June 2017 and lay out concrete goals, targets and indicators around children on the move that should be brought into and upheld in both global compacts.
  2. The Global Conference on Children on the Move, a multi-stakeholder meeting, will take place in Berlin on 12-13 June 2017. During this conference, participants will assess progress and develop strategies around implementing commitments to children on the move.
  3. The initiative’s steering committee will develop a follow-up strategy for future global advocacy efforts – in New York, Geneva, and national capitals around the world – around the need for a harmonised and common policy approach to protecting the rights of children on the move.

In September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly held the high-level Summit for Refugees and Migrants, during which it adopted the New York Declaration. This declaration expresses the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility for refugees and migrants on a global scale, and contains a number of important commitments to children.

The declaration also calls for negotiations leading to the adoption of two separate agreements – the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Terre des Hommes’ Elisabeth Nyayicya teaching children how to read in a protection camp in Juba, South Sudan.

In the run-up to the adoption of these agreements, the Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts will devote its energy and resources into proposing various child-focused goals, targets and indicators – in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – for integration into these global compacts.

The initiative builds on, among other efforts to protect migrant children, the Destination Unknown Campaign for the protection of children on the move, whose 100 member organisations operate in 65 countries. Furthermore, it is spearheaded by a steering committee co-convened by Terre des Hommes and Save the Children, which also comprises of UN agencies, civil society, philanthropic organisations and the private sector.

The aims proposed by the initiative to protect children will build upon existing legally binding commitments, such as those contained in the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC), and tools and frameworks such as UNHCR’s Framework for the Protection of Children and the Recommended Principles for Children on the Move and Other Children Affected by Migration. These goals and targets also draw upon States’ legally binding obligation to comply with the CRC, which enshrines the rights of all children into national law regardless of a child’s nationality, location or migration status. The goals also take influence from specific guidance from the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The timely importance of the Initiative on Child Rights in the Global Compacts is not only founded upon the increasingly alarming situation of children on the move, but on the failure of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants to fulfil civil society’s expectations.

Many of the document’s ninety paragraphs are not commitments, but mere “considerations” to be applied “as appropriate” – a shortcoming in the declaration which undermines the strength of established fundamental human rights standards. In response to these weak commitments, a number of civil society actors have called on countries to uphold seven concrete actions aimed at protecting refugees, migrants and internally displaced people around the world.

While the immediate goal of the Initiative on Child Rights in the Global Compacts is to shape those very compacts, the initiative ultimately aims to have a broader impact on how all children on the move are protected and supported – for the next ten years or more. For this reason, this initiative — working alongside parallel efforts to protect migrant children and their rights — has never been more important.

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