Academic journal article Refuge

Challenges and Progress in Ensuring the Right to Be Heard and the Best Interests of Children Seeking International Protection

Academic journal article Refuge

Challenges and Progress in Ensuring the Right to Be Heard and the Best Interests of Children Seeking International Protection

Article excerpt


Societal attitudes towards children significantly limit the extent to which they are able to realize their rights and can contribute to discrimination against children. Fortunately, legislative reform as well as changes in policies and practices are slowly leading to progress for children, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Child-sensitive procedures for children seeking international protection are being developed and implemented. It is crucial that these systems be strengthened so that durable solutions for children and families are secured without discrimination and in line with the best interests of the children concerned.


Les attitudes d'une societe envers les enfants peuvent limiter considerablement leur capacite de faire valoir leurs droits et peuvent contribuer a la discrimination contre les enfants. Toutefois, des initiatives de reforme legislative ainsi que des changements en matiere de politiques et pratiques sont heureusement en voie d'aboutir a des progres pour les enfants conformement a la Convention relative aux droits de l'enfant. Des procedes sensibles aux besoins des enfants cherchant la protection internationale sont en processus d'elaboration et de mise en oeuvre. Il est essentiel de renforcer ces systemes afin que des solutions durables pour les enfants et les familles soient assurees sans discrimination et selon l'interet superieur des enfants concernes.


The treatment of migrant children and consideration of their claims for international protection in industrialized countries are based on the provisions and implementation of international, regional, and national legal and policy frameworks. In order to understand better the gaps and biases in these frameworks and their application, which may lead to discrimination against children in accessing or receiving international protection, it is helpful to consider the historical attitudes and theoretical approaches towards children and childhood. With changes in society and developments in international human rights law, particularly since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1) in 1989, it is now recognized that children are endowed with human rights and should be supported to realize those rights. Nevertheless, how do lingering concepts of childhood and family affect the realization of children's rights in practice, particularly for asylum-seeking and at-risk migrant children?

While there has been a great deal of research and advocacy on the situation of separated and unaccompanied migrant children, (2) there has been far less attention given to the rights and protection of children migrating with their families. Accompanied migrant children are often viewed simply as appendages, rather than as separate individuals, who have rights and who may have international protection needs, perhaps even a stronger claim than that of their parents. According to the guiding principles and related obligations set out in the CRC, states should allow each child to express his or her views and to take that into account when considering the best interests of the child without discrimination and with a view to ensuring the child's right to life, survival, and development. Yet while there is international law and guidelines, few states assess the cases of accompanied migrant children systematically in international protection procedures.

There is a continuing evolution of law in this field at the international, regional, and national levels. Furthermore, states have been pushed to make progress in practice based on recent jurisprudence, auditing of practice, and authoritative guidance from the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNHCR, and others. Fortunately, some new policies and practices are emerging that seek to operationalize the best-interests principle and to ensure respect for the rights of all migrant children. Child-sensitive and child-friendly international protection procedures--for both unaccompanied and accompanied children, whether asylum-seeking or irregular--are being established and implemented. …

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