Government of Zambia Hosts Regional Conference on Protection of Children on the Move

In Southern Africa, the number of children on the move has been on the rise with their needs increasingly becoming manifest. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), most refugee and migrant children in Southern Africa are likely to originate from within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region itself. UNHCR estimates that there are around 20,000 child migrants in South Africa alone, the majority of whom are from Zimbabwe[i]. Save the Children UK research in South Africa has shown that the average age of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) living at some of the borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe is 14 years old, and that children as young as 7 years are migrating alone. Such children face several challenges ranging from lack of physical safety, to lack of documentation, inability to access services, detention, and abuse and/or exploitation.

A number of national and regional policies, frameworks and strategies, guided by international law, make provisions for the protection of children on the move. These instruments stipulate that children on the move should enjoy the same level of protection and care as local children in the country concerned.  However, in practice this is not always the case.

In order to respond to the needs of children on the move, the Government of Zambia, in partnership with IOM, UNHCR, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), hosted a two-day Regional Conference on the Protection of Children on the Move in Southern Africa in Lusaka in May 2015. The Regional Conference was aimed at bringing stakeholders together from nine different countries to discuss tools and mechanisms that can support improved regional cooperation among participating countries for improved protection of children on the move. The meeting led to a shared understanding and exchange of best practices on the protection of vulnerable children on the move.

Speaking at the opening of the conference, Honourable Inonge Wina, the Vice President of the Republic of Zambia, in her address to delegates said that “Children’s dependency on adults for their support puts them in a precarious situation when adult support is not present, and their plight is worsened when they are on the move.”  She added, “You are here, distinguished delegates, to help identify challenges that undermine regional efforts in addressing situations involving vulnerable children on the move, as well as asylum-seekers, refugees, stateless persons, and victims of trafficking.”

The Regional Conference was attended by government officials responsible for immigration and child protection from nine countries in the region (Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). The delegates at the Regional Conference made a number of recommendations to enhance the protection of children on the move. These were presented to the Government of Zambia’s Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, and other invited guests at the official close of the Conference.

Key recommendations included the following:

  • Governments commit to upholding the fundamental principle of maintaining the best interest of the child at the core of activities that deal with unaccompanied and separated children (UASC), and explore regional and national measures and alternatives to detaining children on the move.
  • Countries immediately enhance measures to screen and assist children on the move in a timely manner.
  • Governments of the region strengthen national child protection systems that are sensitive to the needs of children on the move.
  • The need to enhance regional cooperation and partnerships among member states, especially on cross-border management of cases of children on the move.
  • Governments conduct further research on children on the move, build capacity of service providers, including first line officers, to enhance the quality of service provision and establish systems for collecting credible data on irregular migration and develop a well-maintained and shared case management system for children on the move.

At the close of the conference, IOM Zambia’s Chief of Mission, Abibatou Wane, said “Migrants whose rights are protected are able to live in dignity and security, and in turn are better able to contribute to society, both economically and socially, than those who are exploited, marginalized and excluded.”

The conference was made possible through the UN Joint Programme on Human Trafficking (IOM, UNICEF and UNHCR) that is supported by the European Union’s Thematic Programme on Migration and Asylum (TPMA).

 


[i] Long, Katy and Crisp, Jeff (2011), In harm's way: the irregular movement of migrants to Southern Africa from the Horn and Great Lakes regions. New issues in refugee research, Research paper no. 200. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, Switzerland.