The latest UN International Migration Report 2020 shows that migration has slowed over the past year with an estimated 2 million fewer people in situations of migration between June 2019 and June 2020, predominately related to the global COVID-19 Pandemic. However, “hundreds of thousands of migrants were stranded, unable to return to their countries, while others were forced to return to their home countries earlier than planned, when job opportunities dried up and schools closed.” Natural disasters and conflicts are also major factors driving people to leave their homes.
Despite slower rates of migration, an estimated 218 million people live outside of their country of origin in 2020 – this roughly the population of Pakistan, which the world’s 5th most populous country. The number of child migrants can be harder to, however UNICEF estimated that there were an estimated 31 million children were living outside their country of birth in 2015. This includes 10 million child refugees and 1 million asylum seekers, some migrating alone without parents or caregivers.
Children on the move are more at risk in general and may end up in child labour, either working alongside their parent or ending up in other jobs, especially alongside their parents. Why?
Barriers to integration
Moving, especially in urgent situations, poses challenges for families, including access to decent work, education, housing. Imagine arriving to a new country, where you may not speak the language well. You’re looking for a job and a place for your family to live. You want your daughter to go to school but are unsure how to register her. Your son needs medical care, but it is difficult to find a doctor. You have found work, but do not have childcare during the day.
These are just a few real-life examples of the issues that make migrant children particularly at risk for child labour. When parents are not able to find formal work and childcare, children often end up working informally with them and may miss school.
What can be done?
There are several ways to help migrant children and families thrive, keeping children out of child labour. Coordination and collaboration is needed between countries and between sectors, with governments, communities, businesses and local organisations all having a role to play. Some key policies and actions include:
Reach migrants early by targetting areas where they are concentrated. Basic services, assessing skills and language training allow migrants to take advantage of the first weeks and months after arrival and increases their chance of finding decent work.
Pay special attention children ages 14 to 17. They are often no longer required to be in school and above the legal working age. But, the work that they do must be age appropriate or it is still considered to be child labour. Many have missed years of formal education and need specific help to catch up. Language and job skills training, social support, and career counselling can put these children on the right path to a career.
Engaging communities in host countries can help change stereotypes about immigrants. Schools, businesses, local governments and community organisations can lead the way in fact-based awareness raising. Stressing that helping immigrants adapt and integrate can boost economic growth, promote innovation and enrich community activities can help citizens overcome negative perceptions.
Urgent need for Resources
With rising poverty from the COVID pandemic and increasing climate-related disasters, two major factors that push people into migration, we may see a surge in migration over the coming years. Now is the time for increased investment to help migrants integrate into new destinations, in their home countries and beyond, to make sure children can access school, and to increase economic development and opportunities for decent work globally. Without it we not only fail to guarantee basic rights that children need to thrive socially and economically in the future, we risk an overload of local and national systems – healthcare, housing, schools, law enforcement – creating instability now and in the longer term.