Climate change and extreme weather events are forcing millions of people to move. Among those millions of people, there are children. In 2020 alone, nearly 10 million children were displaced as a result of climate shocks.
With this data as context, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Georgetown University and the United Nations University have published new guidelines to provide the first global policy that will help protect, include and empower displaced children in a context of climate change.
A collaborative document sets the global guidelines to protect children who must move or migrate due to climate change. The UN seeks to protect the basic rights of 1 billion children living in countries at high risk of climate impact
The Guiding Principles for Children on the Move in the Context of Climate Change document provides a set of nine principles that address the unique and layered vulnerabilities of children displaced both internally and across borders as a result of the adverse impacts of climate change. climate change.
Until the publication of this document, there was no comprehensive policy framework to address the needs and rights of children on the move in the context of climate change. Currently, most child-related migration policies fail to take into account climatic and environmental factors, while most climate change policies ignore the unique needs of children.
The newly released guidelines note that climate change intersects with existing environmental, social, political, economic and demographic conditions that contribute to people’s decisions to move. About 1 billion children, nearly half of the world’s 2.2 billion children, live in 33 countries at high risk from the impacts of climate change. With these data, international agencies affirm that it is probable that more people and children will migrate due to climate change than due to wars.
The document was developed in collaboration with young climate and migration activists, academics, experts, policymakers, practitioners and UN agencies. The guiding principles are based on the globally ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child and build on existing guidelines and operational frameworks.
“Every day, rising sea levels, hurricanes, forest fires and crop failures are pushing more and more children and families out of their homes,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said during the launch of the document. “Displaced children are at increased risk of abuse, trafficking and exploitation. They are more likely to lose access to education and health care. And they are often forced into early marriage and child labour.”
These guiding principles provide national and local governments, international organizations and civil society groups with a basis for developing policies that protect children’s rights. The organizations and institutions involved have called on governments, local and regional actors, international organizations and civil society groups to adopt the guiding principles to help protect, include and empower children in the face of climate change.
UN Guidelines for children
The first thing that the agencies want governments to take into account is that displaced children must be guaranteed the rights of children enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Second, the document requires that in all decisions and actions affecting displaced children in the context of climate change, the well-being of the child will be a primary consideration. Apart from this, the third point says that governments and other actors are responsible, that is; their decisions and actions are what contribute to the excessive mobility of children in the context of climate change.
The fourth guiding principle states that children have the right to be informed, consulted and participate in making decisions to move or stay. This is according to their ‘age and maturity, recognizing the rights of parents. Therefore, it is necessary to provide adequate guidance to the child in the exercise of these rights.
Children on the move in the context of climate change have the right to be cared for by their parents or caregivers and not to be separated from them. According to the fifth principle, if separation occurs, children are entitled to special protection and assistance from the State, which must ensure their temporary alternative care and take all necessary measures to reunite them with their parents or other relatives.
For specialists, the sixth principle is that the welfare of the child should be a primary consideration. This is why the seventh principle is that children displaced by climate change have the right to access education, health and other social services at all stages of their journey. Access to health care, including reproductive health services for girls and young women on the move, is critical. Beyond physical health problems, such as malnutrition, poor sanitation, inadequate access to water, and exposure to infectious diseases, children’s mental health can also be affected. In particular, children caught up in disasters related with climate change experience stress, trauma and anxiety when their ties to family and communities are disrupted. That is why this is perhaps the most complicated principle to comply with of those contained in the document.
Displaced children have the right to non-discriminatory treatment regardless of their immigration status or that of their parents. So it is as if the ultimate requirement is that when stateless children move in the context of climate change, or when children become stateless as a result of moving away from their country of nationality, States have an obligation to ensure that they have a nationality. This includes, when necessary, granting them the nationality of the receiving State.
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