Guidelines for landmark protection of children uprooted by climate change

The guiding principles for children on the way in the context of climate change bring together nine principles that address the unique and diverse vulnerabilities of displaced boys and girls, inside or outside their country, due to the negative impacts of climate change.

These principles were initiated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Georgetown University in Washington, DC and the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo, Japan.

Save future generations

Partners explained that most child-related migration policies currently do not take into account climatic and environmental factors, while most climate change policies neglect the unique needs of children.

“The climate crisis has and will continue to have a profound impact on human mobility. Its effects will be most severe for certain segments of our society, such as children; we cannot put future generations at risk,” said IOM Director-General António Vitorino.

He added that while migrant children are particularly vulnerable as they move in the face of climate change, their needs and aspirations are still being overlooked in policy debates.

“With these guiding principles, we want to ensure the visibility of their needs and rights, both in political debates and in programming. Addressing migration and addressing child displacement in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters is a huge challenge that we need to address now,” said Vitorino.

Young people live in danger

Climate change intersects with existing environmental, social, political, economic and demographic conditions that contribute to people’s decision to move.

In 2020 alone, nearly 10 million children were displaced as a result of climate-related shocks. In addition, almost half of the world’s 2.2 billion children, or about one billion boys and girls, live in 33 countries that are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The partners warn that several million children may be forced to move in the coming years.

“Every day, rising sea levels, hurricanes, wildfires and crop failures drive more and more children and families from their homes,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director.

“Displaced children are more vulnerable to abuse, human trafficking and exploitation. They are more likely to lack access to education and health care; and they are often forced into early marriage and child labour,” the UNICEF chief argued.

© UNICEF/KC Nwakalor

Children walk through the mud in a camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria.

Cooperation with young activists

The Guiding Principles provide a basis for national and local governments, international organizations and civil society groups to develop policies that protect children’s rights.

These guidelines have been developed in collaboration with young climate and migration activists, academics, experts, policy makers, practitioners and UN agencies. The principles are based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and draw on existing guidelines and operational frameworks.

The executive director of the United Nations University (UNU) Center for Policy Research, David Passarelli, recalled that for years the international community has sounded the alarm about climate change and environmental degradation, as well as about the likelihood of mass displacements.

These predictions have come true as climate-related migrations have been observed in all regions of the world where children are increasingly affected.

“Although these children benefit from a range of international and national protections, the subject remains highly technical and difficult to access, creating a protection gap for migrant children,” Mr Passarelli said.

Partners highlighted the need to develop concise guidelines that communicate risks, protections and rights in clear and accessible language, and they were developed with that specific goal in mind, he explained.

Protection today and tomorrow

“This tool helps navigate the complex nexus between migrant rights, children’s rights and climate change to respond more quickly and effectively to the needs of children on the move in the face of climate change,” added Mr. Passarelli.

Governments, local and regional actors, international organizations and civil society groups are encouraged to adopt these principles.

While the new framework does not contain new legal obligations, it distills and builds on key principles that have already been affirmed in international law and adopted by governments around the world, said Elizabeth Ferris, director of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration.

“We urge all governments to review their policies in light of the Guiding Principles and take action now that will ensure children on the move are protected from climate change now and in the future,” he said.

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