Under the 1951 Convention, individuals who meet the Convention definition should be recognized as refugees regardless of their age. Children, therefore, are entitled to the same rights and privileges as adult refugees. The following page first outlines the international and domestic framework for refugee children’s rights. It then discusses some of the issues refugee children may face because of their age and inherent vulnerability, and provide links to additional resources on children’s rights.
Refugee children are at the center of two international law regimes: (1) instruments recognizing the rights of refugees, and (2) instruments recognizing the rights of children. As the 1951 Convention requires any child that meets the definition of a refugee to receive the same treatment as adult refugees, practitioners should simultaneously consider international refugee law and the rights of all children.
The 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Children specifically create a framework of rights for children at the international law level. However, many other conventions also refer to children in relation to the convention’s topic. For example, labor treaties may establish a minimum age for labor, and conventions on armed conflict may prohibit child soldiers.
The children of refugees, born outside of their parents’ country of origin, are at heightened risks of statelessness. This is particularly the case where birth registration does not occur, such as in some emergency settings, or where authorities in the country of asylum lack capacity to provide meaningful migration status or documentation. The right to not be stateless is included in the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. However, there is a limited number of signatory states, and the right to registration at birth may need to be argued or promoted creatively.
Researching domestic law and policies
Each country has its own domestic framework regarding the rights of children. As children’s rights encompass many areas of the law, it is useful to start by identifying the specific issues facing refugee children in your country. You can use some of the following resources to determine the status of that issue in your specific country.
- The WORLD Policy Analysis Center’s Children’s Chances, referenced below, provides a unique and extensive starting point for specific country research. The WORLD Policy Analysis Center has collected and analyzed comparative policy data on nearly every country in order to create comparative maps for many specific questions. This database of maps begins by addressing a specific topic, such as legislation protecting children from marriage. It then breaks down the issue into sub-questions, and allows you to compare your country with the other countries in your region.
The Right to Education Project, also featured in the Education section of the toolkit, has a thorough guide for locating information on domestic implementation of the right to education. In addition to the right to education, this guide can be used to identify information on any of the numerous issues facing children.
Unaccompanied and separated children are highly vulnerable to exploitation and face a diverse range of challenges. In addition to higher risks of sexual and labor exploitation, unaccompanied refugee children struggle with accessing the refugee status determination (RSD) process and may not be able to find or access support organizations.
One significant area for organizations to advocate for may be family tracing, and linking separated refugee children to their family in the country and elsewhere. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are working together to reunite families separated by conflict, migration, and disasters. Their Restoring Family Links project is a great starting point for reuniting unaccompanied and separated children with their families. The International Refugee Rights Initiative has created a thorough resource guide on separated and unaccompanied children, which includes extensive background information, specific guidance on the RSD process for separated and unaccompanied minors, and key resources for advocacy and support. Note that UNHCR has also issued guidelines for the protection of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. All of these resources are referenced below.
Refugee Status Determination process and credibility assessments
The RSD process is intimidating for refugees, regardless of their age, but may be especially difficult for children. RSD interviews may take place in small rooms that are scary for children, and often include questions that may be difficult to answer or may be related to traumatic experiences. Long interviews may leave children hungry or unable to concentrate. Children are likely to fear “failing” the interview and may feel responsible for the outcome of the RSD process, especially if the claim is rejected. Additionally, it may be difficult to assess the credibility of the child’s statements, especially when a child has experienced trauma.
UNHCR has implemented a best interest of the child policy with regards to children going through the RSD process. When organizations prepare children for RSD interviews, they should be aware of the best practices for interviewing children. This includes choosing a comfortable location, creating an appropriate trusting relationship with the child, and avoiding re-traumatization. However, implementation may vary from office to office, and not every RSD officer implements the best interest of the child or is able to apply best practices. It is important for advocates to know how the local RSD office conducts interviews with children, and what their policies and practices are. This may provide a good starting point for future advocacy, and can also help organizations better prepare underaged clients for their interviews. When appropriate, organization may need to prepare the child or the family for the worst-case scenario, i.e. in the event of a difficult interview.
Additional areas of concern
In addition to issues related to refugee children’s claims, refugee children may lack access to education, proper medical treatment, birth certificates, and other basic rights. Children are often vulnerable to exploitation in the labor market and may be trafficked. Children in detention are often separated from one or both parents, and can be traumatized by their experiences in detention. Many of these issues overlap and exacerbate each other. As refugee children are easily overlooked and often require more attention than other clients, organizations should have their own child protection policies in place and should consider specialized training for all advocates.
When researching children issues, some starting points may be:
- Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS), which focuses on issues within the United States, also has developed numerous webinars, publications, and training manuals related to refugee and immigrant children and families.
- Save the Children advocates on behalf of children on a number of issues and has offices globally. Their resource centre may be of use.
- The Child Rights International Network (CRIN) connects children’s rights advocates from numerous organizations. CRIN is involved in advocacy, research, monitoring and much more.
- Children’s Rights: International Law (United States’ Library of Congress)
- nternational Legal Standards (Action for the Rights of Children)
- Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum (UNHCR)
- UNHCR Guidelines on Determining the Best Interests of the Child (UNHCR)
- Suggestions for Interviewing Refugee and Immigrant Children and Families (BRYCS)
- Children’s Chances (The WORLD Policy Analysis Center)
- Right to Education Project
- Restoring Family Links (ICRC)
- Separated Children (International Refugee Rights Initiative)
- Save the Children’s Resource Center
- The Child Rights International Network (CRIN)