Magazine article UN Chronicle

Migrant Children's Rights: Working to Fill the Gap

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Migrant Children's Rights: Working to Fill the Gap

Article excerpt

THE MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE across national borders is a phenomenon increasingly relevant to global public policy. Yet, although international migration affects millions of people all over the world and has crucial repercussions on the balances in and between States, deep analyses and adequate discussions of migration-related issues are often pushed to the side of political debates.

In many cases, States have found themselves unable to deal with sudden changes or developments in the field of migration. The need for a global response ends up being handled at either the national or local level and in a closed manner, as the issue is often considered "too political" to be dealt with at the international level. As a result, immigration policies are often considered just a matter of elaborated legal mechanisms that exclude illegal and unauthorized migrants from national territories. A coordinated policy framework dealing with the rights of people moving across borders, supported by an international migration institution able to take and implement effective decisions, is therefore of utmost importance.

A particularly delicate issue in the broad scenario of migration is that of children in cross-border movements. Civil society groups, the academic community and human rights organizations claim that policymakers should be particularly sensitive and prompt in addressing issues related to migrant children. Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland and founder and President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (EGI), expressed these views clearly in October 2004, when she addressed the Columbia University Institute for Child and Family Policy. "Internationally agreed human rights standards and mechanisms, particularly those concerning economic, social and cultural rights, can be more effectively used to address some of today's most pressing global challenges, from inequities in international trade policies and global health standards to [...] problems associated with the growing movement of people, including millions of children, across national borders", she said.

A study funded by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and published in 2003 by the University of Bristol and the London School of Economics and Political Science, entitled Child Poverty in the Developing World, found that over 1 billion children--more than half of them living in developing countries--lack "at least one basic human need", such as food, drinking water, sanitation facilities and health care. More than half of these children also lack at least two of these fundamental needs and are therefore living in absolute poverty. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes that "there are children living in exceptionally difficult conditions, and that such children need special consideration". It also stresses the importance of international cooperation for improving the living conditions of children, particularly in developing countries; yet, actual legal and political commitments are too often lacking.

An important step towards a significant global commitment was made in September 2000 with the signing of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, stating that world leaders "have a duty [...] to all the world's people, especially the most vulnerable, and in particular the children of the world to whom the future belongs". But the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals, identified in the Declaration as targets to be achieved by 2015, still has a very long way to go. …

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