Protecting Children in Yemen

Chissey Mueller, Migrant Assistance and Protection Officer with IOM, the UN Migration Agency in Yemen, talks to us about child protection in Yemen in a Q&A.

Question: What is the situation of children in Yemen these days?

Answer: Even before the conflict, Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East and struggled to address a number of protection issues for Yemeni and migrant children. Child begging and child labour was really visible, particularly on the streets. 

The conflict has exacerbated the existing child protection issues, and added new ones inside Yemen.

In addition, Yemen’s migration flows consist of large numbers of unaccompanied migrant children from the Horn of Africa who aim to transit Yemen to go to Saudi Arabia.  There’s also been a well-established pattern of unaccompanied Yemeni child migrants who cross irregularly into Saudi Arabia to work or carry contraband. 

Question: Can you tell us about the different Child Protection programmes or activities that are being implemented by IOM in Yemen?

Answer: 25% of the migrants IOM assists in Yemen are unaccompanied migrant children. They are mainly Ethiopian boys between the ages of 14 and 17, who are in need of urgent life-saving assistance and protection having travelled from Ethiopia overland through Djibouti, and sometimes Somalia, and crossed the sea to Yemen. More often than not they have been abducted, injured or shot, held captive, abused, exploited, and robbed, while on their journey. We provide these young men – boys - with primary and secondary health care, temporary shelter, food and drinking water, non-food items such as clothing and hygiene kits. We also work with them to understand what happened, what are their vulnerabilities and what are their needs. If they want to go home, we help them.  

Two years of ground fighting and aerial bombardment has destroyed many homes, rendering families homeless, and forcing schools to close.  Children, family, and entire communities are suffering and need mental health and psychosocial support, in addition to material life-saving assistance. So IOM has established 31 Child-Friendly Spaces in Aden and Sana’a through which conflict-affected children and families can receive psychosocial support.  The spaces are open five days a week, and are located in parks, orphanages, schools, and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) centres. The spaces have been exceptionally popular with children, parents and the communities with visits from over 100,000 children.  Additionally, 37,382 boys, girls, men, and women received psychosocial support from IOM psychologists assigned to the spaces. Community Committees were established for each space to uphold child protection principles of doing no harm to the child, making decisions based on the child’s best interest, the involving the child in the decision-making, encourage community engagement and optimize the impact of the psychosocial activities. We were surprised to receive a significant number of children who were from marginalized or stigmatized groups, such as those from a different ethnicity, or with physical or mental challenges. In Yemen, children from these groups usually do not join public activities.  

 IOM Yemen’s migrant assistance and protection programming has received  support from  the following donors: European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the UK Department for International Development, and the US Department of State US Department of State. IOM’s Psychosocial Support through Child Friendly Spaces is funded by the US Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance.                                 

Question: Since the beginning of the conflict, IOM has been carrying out the humanitarian evacuations of migrants. Despite the challenging environment you are evolved in, can you tell us how IOM Yemen manages to ensure that children are protected during these operations?

Answer: We rely heavily on two child protection principles – the best interests of the child and participation of the child in the decision making process. Most of the child migrants are unaccompanied and separated children and have survived an arduous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen. We try to identify temporary care-givers and according to their capacities and level of maturity, we explain to the child all of the assistance and referral options. We look to the child to guide us on what he or she wants from IOM. To the greatest extent possible, we work with UNICEF and other child protection partners to conduct family tracing before the child is evacuated from Yemen. If this is not possible, then IOM’s office and the child protection agency in the country of origin will handle this as well as part of the family reunification process, under the auspices of the consular authorities and/or the authorities in the countries of origin. Should IOM Yemen have identified the child with specific vulnerabilities like trafficked children or victims of other violent acts, or needs, we assist accordingly and relay these findings to our colleagues in the country of origin so they can coordinate appropriate post-arrival and reunification support as much as possible.

Question: Who are your main child protection partners in in the country, and how do you coordinate with them?

Answer: IOM is a proactive member of the child protection sub-cluster that is led by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Our initial entry point into the child protection sub-cluster was the protection needs of migrant children, but this has since broadened to include the conflict-affected Yemenis that we encounter in particular at the Child Friendly Spaces. Due to our child protection work – particularly direct assistance to migrant children - IOM is regularly asked to contribute to working groups that, for example, develop national standard operating procedures for Child Protection Case Management. 

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IOM remains committed to the protection of migrant children around the world, including in humanitarian settings. In 2016, the Global Child Protection Working Group split into two entities, namely the Child Protection Area of Responsibility (CP AoR) and the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (the Alliance). On this occasion, IOM (re)affirmed its commitment to both entities, of which IOM will remain one of the core and active members. In doing so, IOM committed to respect the principles of partnership and contribute to collective decision-making processes, contribute to quality programming based on the Child Protection Minimum Standards (currently under revision with the participation of IOM), and uphold, use and actively promote the principles, standards, tools and other products endorsed globally in the Organization.

In parallel, IOM continues to expand in the field its own programming to protect migrant children  and all children affected by migration crises. More specifically, IOM , builds on its areas of expertise such as assistance and Protection to Unaccompanied and Separated Children and mainstreaming Child Protection concerns in every-day emergency response operations. Recognized as a key player for the Protection of migrant children, IOM also is expanding its policy and guidance development works, among others through the issuing of Special Measures for the Evacuation of Migrant Children - A reference Checklist. 

For more information about IOM Child Protection initiatives, commitments and programming, please contact DOEProtection@iom.int .