‘Children on the Move’

Hundreds of Slovenia refugee children and families travel together across a countryside on foot.
Hundreds of Slovenia refugee children and families travel together across a countryside on foot. © Janossygergely | Dreamstime

The Facts

Today, millions of children have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced. They are “children on the move”, an umbrella definition which brings together children moving for a variety of reasons (conflict, poverty, violence, natural disasters, climate change discrimination, lack of education and access to services) within or between countries, with or without their parents or other caregivers. 

These children face a variety of rights violations, in the country of origin, transit or in the host countries, from exploitation and violence to being separated from their families, detained because of their migration status and deprived of essential protection.

Many of them are at risk to spend their entire childhood away from home in a protracted refuge situation. Particularly vulnerable are refugee children aged birth-5. Early childhood interventions are essential under highly adverse conditions.

The UN Initiatives for Migrants and Refugees: The Commitments for ChildrenA young refugee girl holds up a SOS sign at Keleti Rail Station, Budapest, Hungary.

1. New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants

On 19 September 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The Declaration expresses the political will of world leaders to share responsibility on a global scale with regards to refugees and migrants. The New York Declaration contains a number of important commitments to children. In particular, in par. 82, the Members States committed themselves to support early childhood education for refugee children. They reaffirmed their determination to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development targets, including the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.

The Declaration also calls for negotiations leading to the adoption of two envisaged agreements in 2018 - the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. 

2. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and The Global Compact for Refugees 

These two documents, after months and months of negotiations, represent an important contribution to the cooperation on international migration in all its dimension, including in Early Childhood Development. 

Finally, the Member States recognized the need “to facilitate a non discriminatory access to early childhood development for migrant children” (Objective 15, letter.f of the GCM), while, for refugee children, they agree to “expand educational facilities (including for early childhood development)” , GCR, para 69. 

To facilitate the member states in the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration, transforming their commitments into action, the UN created new mechanisms.

The UN Migration Networka Geneva-based initiative, with a Secretariat staff in New York, formed by 38 organization (among them UNICEF) has to ensure effective and coherent support to implementation, follow up and review of the GCM through the capacity-building mechanism (CBM). 

The CBM is made up by a connection hub that facilitates demand-driven and integrated solutions; a start-up fund for initial financing; a global knowledge platform as on-line data source.

3. The Civil Society Initiatives: The Special Consideration for Children’s Rights 

The Initiative for the Child Rights in the Global Compacts, aiming to ensure that both global compacts reflect a common approach to protect children on the move, stresses the critical role of early childhood development (ECD) especially for refugee and migrant children. 

The Civil Society Action Committee, set up by civil society in 2016 ahead of the High Level Summit to Address Large Movements of Migrants and Refugees, considers the rights of migrant and refugee women and children as crosscutting issues, stressing that the best interest of the child must be a primary consideration in all policies, decisions and actions

The Action Committee, co-convened by International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and the NGO Committee on Migration will pursue a focus on the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, by offering a space for collective civil society strategy around it. 

NGO Committee on Migration

The NGO Committee on Migration is a member of the Conference of Non- Governmental Organizations (CoNGO) in consultative relationship with the United Nations. The mission of the NGO Committee on Migration (CoM) is to encourage the protection and promotion of migrants’ human rights, in accordance with the United Nations Charter. Taskforces include Children in Migration, Communications, Migrants in Transit and Refugees.

The CoM is focusing on four areas, each of which is being addressed by a Subcommittee:

  1. Global Compact on Migration and Migrants in Vulnerable Situations

  2. Xenophobia and Social Inclusion

  3. Climate-induced Displacement

  4. Refugee and Migrant Children

 Goals of the Subcommittee on Migrant and Refugee Children:

  1. Advocate for the implementation of ECD initiatives in a migration context;

  2. Collect and disseminate good practices regarding migrant and refugee children 0-4 years old; and

  3. Stress the role of ECD as peacebuilding, and translate this vision into concrete projects.

In 2018, the subcommitee on migrant and refugee children prepared the booklet, I am a child! Four steps for protecting children’s rights in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and in the Global Compact on Refugees, a collection of good practices and good policies regarding birth registration, access to education and to ECD, and access to health services without discriminiation. It is a living document and will be updated periodically. We welcome suggestions of good policies and practices implemented by governments in collaboration with multi-stakeholders to protect migrant children’s rights. (Email the NGO MIgration Committee at ngomigrationcommittee@gmail.com.)

Cover UNICEF publication, Beyond Borders. How to Make the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees Work for Uprooted Children

The UNICEF publication, Beyond Borders. How to Make the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees Work for Uprooted Children, presents successful case studies from around the world in the protection of children on the move.

Call for action

  1. Exchange information on good practices and policies regarding the implementation of early childhood development (ECD) programs in a migration and refugee context;

  2. Advocate at national and local level, for the migrant and refugee children’s rights to education, in particular ECD;

  3. Promote the collaboration among Civil Society, international, national, local authorities, academia, and private sector to facilitate the implementation, at national and local level, of ECD programs; and

  4. Give voice to children and their families in crisis situations.

►Relevant information

UN documents
  1. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development(2016).

  2. Joint General Comment Joint general comment No. 4 (2017) of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and No. 23 (2017) of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on State obligations regarding the human rights of children in the context of international migration in countries of origin, transit, destination and return. 

  3. New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. (2016)

  4. Report of the Peacebuilding Commission on its Ninth Session, A/70/714-S/2016/115, 4 February 2016. 

  5. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. (2017).

  6. Report by the Special Representative on Migration, Mr. Peter Sutherland, A/71/728, 3 February 2018. 

  7. United Nations. (2015). Protection of the rights of the child in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development

  8. United Nations General Assembly. (2018). Best practices and specific measures to ensure access to birth registration, partiularly for those children most at risk. A/HRC/39/30. 10 August 2018.

  9. United Nations General Assembly, Global study on children deprived of liberty (2019). Children Deprived of Liberty - The United Nations Global Study. A/74/136. 11 July 2019.

  10. United Nations General Assembly, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 23 December 2016, follow-up to the Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace, A/RES/71/252, 26 January 2017.  

  11. United Nations General Assembly Security Council Reports, Reports on the U.N. Independent High-Level Panel on Peace Operations, A/70/95-S/2015/446, 17 June 2015.  

  12. United Nations Network on Migration. Report of the Secretary-General, A/75/542 (2020). Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Report of the Secretary-General, 26 October 2020.

  13. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR). (2017). Report to the Human Rights Council on the compendium of principles, good practices and policies on safe, orderly and regular migration in line with international human rights law - A/HRC/36/42

  14. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR). (2017). Synthesis report on promising practices on refugee children education.  

  15. United Nations President of the General Assembly. (2016). In safety and dignity: Addressing large movements of refugees and migrants.

  16. United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2282 on Review of United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture, adopted by the Security Council at its 7680th meeting, S/RES/2282, 27 April 2016. 

  17. World Bank Group & United Nations. (2017). Pathways for peace: Inclusive approaches for preventing violent conflict

UN agencies & publications
  1. UNESCO. (2015). Access and quality of education for international migrant children

  2. UNESCO. (2016). Cities welcoming refugees and migrants: Enhancing effective urban governance in an age of migration

  3. UNESCO. (2018). Global Education Monitoring Report 2019: Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges, not walls.

  4. UNESCO. (2019). Migration, displacement and education. Building bridges, not walls

  5. UNHCR. (2019). Desperate journeys.

  6. UNHCR. (2019). Refugee education 2030: A strategy for refugee inclusion

  7. UNICEF. (2011). Women motherhood early childhood development: Exploring the question on of how poor Roma women’s status and situation and development.  

  8. UNICEF. (2012). Child poverty and inequality: New perspectives

  9. UNICEF. (2014). Early childhood development: A statistical snapshot. Building better brains and outcomes for children

  10. UNICEF. (2014). Early childhood development and family services: Baseline evaluation in 20 sites in Rwanda

  11. UNICEF. (2014). Early childhood development in emergencies. Integrated programme guide

  12. UNICEF. (2015). Early childhood education and peacebuilding in post-conflict Northern and Eastern Uganda

  13. UNICEF. (2015). For every child a fair chance. The promise of equity.  

  14. UNICEF. (2016). Mapping the global goals for sustainable development and the Convention on the Rights of the Child

  15. UNICEF. (2016). Uprooted. The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children.  

  16. UNICEF. (2017). Best of UNICEF research 2017. MiscellaneaUNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti, Florence

  17. UNICEF. (2017). Beyond borders: How to make the global compacts on migration and refugees work for uprooted children

  18. UNICEF. (2017). Education uprooted.

  19. UNICEF. (2017). Early moments matter for every child

  20. UNICEF. (2017). Harrowing journeys

  21. UNICEF. (2018). A Right to be heard. Listening to children and young people on the move.

  22. UNICEF. (2019). A world ready to learn: Prioritizing quality early childhood education

  23. UNICEF. (2021). Quantifying Heckman: Are Governments in Eastern and Southern Africa Maximizing Returns on Investments in Early Childhood Development?

  24. UNICEF. (2021). Missing from the story: The urgent need for better data to protect children on the move. IDAC Data InSIGHT # 1.

  25. United Nations Network on Migration. (2020). Enhancing Access to Services for Migrants in the Context of COVID-19: Preparedness, Prevention, Response and Beyond.

  26. United Nations News Centre (2013). “Quality education can help prevent racism and xenophobia – UN expert”.

  27. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR).

  28. United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR): Child and Youth Protection.

  29. United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). (2016). Missing out: Refugee education in crisis.

  30. United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). (2017). Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework.

  31. United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). (2017). Desperate journeys.

  32. UNHCR. (2019). Costa Rican schools open their doors to displaced Nicaraguan children

  33. UNCHR. (2019). UNCHR to launch the First Global Refugee Forum.

  34. UNCHR. (2019). Refugee education 2030

Additional agencies & documentation
  1. Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. (2019). 2019 Edition of the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPMS).

  2. Bove, Chiara, & Sharmahd, Nima. (2020). Beyond invisibility: Welcoming children and families with migrant and refugee background in ECEC settings. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, Vol 28 (1): pp 1-9. 

  3. Chouzouraki, A., & Gorevan, D. (2021). Greece: Children on the move. 

  4. Civil Society Action Committee. (2021). 12 key ways for States to get back on track.

  5. Destination Unknown. (2019). Making life better for children on the move. Promising practices for working with and supporting children on the move.

  6. End Immigration Detention of Children

  7. Eurochild, & SOS Children’s Villages International. (2017). Let children be children: Lessons from the field on the protection and integration of refugee and migrant children in Europe

  8. European Social Network. (2018). Promoting the social inclusion of migrant children and young people. The duty of social services

  9. Global Detention Project

  10. Global Parliament of Majors. (2017). Protection and empowerment of migrant children

  11. Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts. (2020). Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts: Examples of Child-focused Work.

  12. Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts. (2018). Explore, engage, act! Children and young people and the Global Compact on Refugees and for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

  13. Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compact: Resources. (2017). Working document on Child Rights in The Global Compacts

  14. International Data Alliance for Children on the Move (IDAC). (2021). Missing from the story: The urgent need for better data to protect children on the move.

  15. International Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). Education cannot wait: A fund for education in emergencies.  

  16. International Organization for Migration: Unaccompanied Migrant Children (UMC)

  17. International Organization for Migration (IOM). (2011). Unaccompanied children on the move

  18. International Organization for Migration (IOM). (2019).  Access to education for migrant and refugee children in Europe

  19. International Organization for Migration (IOM). (2019). Fatal journeys. Volume4. Missing mMigrant children

  20. Joint NGO briefing paper. (2021). Relocation from Greece: Lessons learned and looking ahead.

  21. Journal on Education in Emergencies (2021).Commentary: Newborns in Fragile and Humanitarian Settings: A Multi-Agency Partnership Roadmap.

  22. Journal on Education in Emergencies (2021).Accessible Strategies to Support Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in Emergencies: Experience from the Rohingya Refugee Camp.

  23. Little Ripples: Refugee-led Early Childhood Education

  24. Maioli, S.C, et al. (2021). International migration of unaccompanied minors: trends, health risks, and legal protectionThe Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 5(12): 882-895.

  25. Migration Policy Institute. (2018). Responding to the ECEC Needs of Children of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Europe and North America.

  26. Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). (2015). Early childhood education and peacebuilding in post conflict Northern and Eastern Uganda.

  27. PICUM. (2019). Child immigration detention in Europe

  28. Refugees Deeply News Deeply (2018). School started by refugees becomes one of Uganda’s best

  29. Right to Education Initiative. (2021). Child migration and access to Early Childhood Care and Education: Limitations in legal frameworks and other concerns.

  30. Right to Education Project. Migrants, refugees and internally displaced-persons.

  31. Rygaard, N. P. (2020). Improving the mental health of abandoned children: Experiences from a global online intervention. 

  32. Save the Children. (2015). Calculating the impact of the collapse of Syria’s education system on the country’s future

  33. Save the Children. (2015). More and better. Global action to improve funding, support and collaboration for education in emergencies. 

  34. Save the Children. (2017). Losing out on learning. Providing refugee children, the education they were promised

  35. Save the Children. (2019). Road to recovery: Responding to children’s mental health in conflict.

  36. Save the Children, UNHCR & Pearson. (2017). Promising practices on refugee children education.

  37. Save the Children, UK. (2018).  Explore, Engage, Act! Children and young people and the Global Compact on Refugees and Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

  38. Save the Children. (2019). Unprotected: Crisis in humanitarian funding for child protection.

  39. Syrius. (2018). Role of non-formal education in migrant children inclusion: Links with the schools

  40. Theirworld. (2015). Opportunities for accelerating progress in education for Syrian children and youth in Jordan

  41. Theirworld. (2015). Reaching all children with education in Lebanon

  42. Theirworld. (2016). Safe spaces: The urgent need for early childhood development in emergencies and disasters

  43. World Bank Group. (2015). World Bank support to early childhood development. An independent evaluation

  44. World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP). (2017). Fighting the war on poverty with early childhood education.

  45. World Vision. (2018). Displaced - On the Road to Somewhere: Why ending violence against children on the move is possible.

  46. MISSING CHILDREN EUROPE  has the goal to create a link between research, laws and professionals to prevent children for going missing, support them and their families.

  47. Childhub, Access to education migrant children in Europe

  48. Mixed Migration Center. (2019). Social networks in refugee response: What we can learn from Sudanese and Yemeni in Amman, Jordan

NGO initiatives: Early childhood development (ECD)
  1. Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN). This platform champions excellence and collaboration in protecting children’s rights, influence policy and practice, strengthen partnerships, and share experiences and knowledge in ECD on the African continent.

  2. Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Supports ECD programs:  Afghanistan | Bangladesh | Egypt | Kenya | Pakistan | Syria | Tanzania 

  3. AMAL Alliance is dedicated to empowering displaced children through social development programs at refugee camps and inormal settlement around the globe. 

  4. Anera offers innovative and flexible projects in ECD, “Right Start Programs”, in West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan.  

  5. Arab Resource Collective (ARC)

    In Lebanon, the Arab Resource Collective pilot project addresses the particular needs of young refugee children birth to five and their parents, utilizing early intervention to mitigate the negative effects associated with families’ refugee situations, promoting communication and understanding between refugee parents and parents in host communities.

  6. Childhood and Early Parenting Principles (CEPPs) is focused on child’s “critical years” from conception to age 3-5. The CEPPs Global Initiative and the CEPPs Sister Cities program are having a transformative effect, breaking the persistent inter-generational cycles of poverty, adversity, disadvantage and violence seen in many areas of society today.

  7. Children on the EdgePilot Projects in Syria, Uganda, Burma, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Children on the Edge, working in partnership with local communities, helps marginalized and forgotten children, who are living on the edge of their societies, by providing their basic needs, including early childhood education.

  8. Comprehensive Protection System for Early Childhood, “Chile Cresce Contigo”. 

  9. Collateral Repair ProjectIn Jordan, the Collateral Repair Project, with the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO) and other partners, assists refugees and victims of conflict: over 1,000 children can attend school-2017.

  10. Destination Unknown (2021). A guide - children & the Global Compacts on refugees & migration. Understand what’s in the compacts and how to engage with them.

  11. Early Childhood Development and Family ProgramIn Rwanda, the ECD & Family Program, supported by the Government, provides for the holistic development of children under six, through the provision of integrated health, nutrition, early learning and protection services for families and children.

  12. Early Childhood Development Humanitarian Response InitiativeThe International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop collaborate on the Early Childhood Development Humanitarian Response Initiative to produce and deliver breakthrough programming for children affected by the Syrian crisis, to enhance caregiver-child interactions and improve children’s learning and socio-economic outcomes. 

  13. Early Learning Partnership (ELP) support ECD in 26 countries in Africa and in South Asia. 

  14. Gunjula Early Child Development Project aims to improve the quality of early child development services for vulnerable children in Uganda, in partnership with SOS Children’s Villages Uganda, Victoria Village Group of Companies and the Amarshi Family.

  15. International Rescue Committee. (2018). Participatory development in fragile and conflict-affected contexts: An impact evaluation of the Tuungane 1 Program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  16. iACTIn Eastern Chad, Little Ripples is early childhood education program for Darfuri refugees in Goz Amer and Djabal Refugee camps, implemented in partnership with Jesuit Refugee Services – West Africa. The program trains and employs refugee women to support the socio-emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children ages 3 to 5 through play-based learning. iACT  Publications and Resources

  17. SOS Children’s Village InternationalSOS Children’s Villages International comprises 118 national SOS Children’s Villages associations. As members of the federation, each SOS Children’s Villages association is committed to applying the federation’s statutes, standards for quality child care, and stringent financial and administrative practices.

  18. MIKROS DOUNIAS are EDC programs with the goal to offer a healthy and peaceful space for refugee children living in a Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece.

  19. Moving Minds Alliance (MMM). (2018). ECD and early learning for children in crisis and conflict. 

  20. Platform for International Cooperation on Undocument Migrants (PICUM). (2021). Navigating irregularity: The impact of growing up undocumented in Europe. 

  21. Queen Rania Foundation (QRF) design and implement innovative programs that address the root causes of education challenges in Jordan and the region.

  22. Early childhood Education in Jordan

  23. The Gunjula Early Child Development Project aims to improve the quality of early child development services for vulnerable children in Uganda, in partnership with SOS Children’s Villages Uganda, Victoria Village Group of Companies and the Amarshi Family.  

  24. The UN Kilo de Ayuda Civil Association focuses on promoting and improving Nutrition and Early Childhood Development in Mexico.

Contributor: Maria Pia Belloni Mignatti, M.A., serves as Advisor to the ECPC. She is UN Representative, World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP), and retired Professor of European Union Law, Faculty of Political Science, at the University of Pavia (Italy).


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