Child Protection

Unaccompanied Minors: A Childhood Interrupted

By Ogonna Kanu

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a child as every human being below the age of 18 years. Since children belong in families and are to be cared for till they attain a certain age, parents or guardians will naturally make decisions that consider the wellbeing of the child.

When families decide to relocate from one place to another, the expectation is that parents move with their children; and that minors will not make decisions to migrate or undertake such journeys alone. Contrary to this assumption, there are now more children than ever before who flee or find themselves without adults to chaperone them. These children can be categorized as either unaccompanied minors or separated children. Unaccompanied children are those who are without both parents, not being cared for by relatives or adults, who by law or custom, are responsible for doing so. Separated children are those who have been separated from both parents or from previous legal or customary primary caregiver but not necessarily from other relatives.

There are different reasons why children migrate alone. They could be fleeing persecution or victims of natural disasters, displacement, conflict, gang violence or conscription into rebel armies. Sometimes, it is the flight process that separates children from parents or older relatives. Losing the protection of their families or relatives in such a turmoil makes their story even more pathetic because it is at such times that they need their families the most. There have been instances where parents have made the grim decision to send their children alone with the hope of ensuring their survival. In other instances, the parents have gone on ahead and regularized their stay in other countries by seeking asylum before making arrangements – sometimes very risky arrangements, for the children to join them through the ‘unaccompanied minors’ route.

Discussions on the rights and protection of unaccompanied or separated children (UASC) have become necessary because of the increase in their numbers. There are 35 million children below the age of 18 who are refugees. Thousands amongst these children arrive in a country either on their own or with relatives who are not their parents. A UNHCR report estimates that there are presently 153,300 unaccompanied minors and separated children in the world. 

It is nearly impossible for a child to face the world alone and remain the same. The interruption of childhood compels them to assume adult responsibilities. Older children become caregivers, protectors and providers to their younger siblings. Oftentimes they do the unimaginable to survive; and are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Journeying alone in itself is deemed to be physically and psychologically tiring and exposes them to physical violence, rape, manipulation and human trafficking. Girls are at a greater risk of sexual and gender based violence. Police or immigration officials who should protect these children may take advantage of them. Access to adequate medical services; education; official or proper identification, documentation and registration of their refugee status is not guaranteed.

There is not much consideration given to their needs as children. Some are housed in detention facilities in inhumane conditions with adults they do not know. Children in such facilities suffer physical, emotional and psychological trauma, particularly if they stay there for a long time. There are situations where the children are unable to seek asylum or denied asylum and have been returned to the countries they took flight from. Their asylum requests may also not be handled in an age-appropriate or gender sensitive manner.

In recent times, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled on the unlawfulness of the widespread detention of migrant children in EU states. Human rights organizations have also been quick to point out that under international law, children should not be detained. UNICEF and UNHCR insist that a best interest analysis (BIA) takes place before a decision to detain a child. It should identify the actions to be taken in the child’s best interest. Detention may only be given careful thought if the child can be placed where their physical and mental needs are addressed and their age and gender are given optimal consideration. UNHCR also advocates child-appropriate alternatives to detention such as connecting children with relatives in the country of asylum, making use of foster care systems or residential quarters. Pilot initiatives, such as Greece’s supervised independent living, Italy’s guardianship programme and Germany’s protection co-ordinators initiative are being pushed as projects that have not only benefited from the direct input of children but have made a positive impact in the fight  to improve the lot of migrant  children. 

The issues faced by unaccompanied children have prompted people everywhere to speak out. People are making an effort to learn more about migration issues and are speaking against governments and policies that add more trauma to the lives of these children. Educating others and encouraging them to lend their own voices to this cause; and joining local NGOs to donate time, money or skills has proved effective in creating more awareness and providing some succor to the children.

Hopefully, with increased effort to tackle this catastrophe, the conditions unaccompanied minors and separated children find themselves presently will very soon be a thing of the past.

Psychosocial Support (PSS)

UMR seeks to provide a wraparound program for children and their families who are affected by conflict. Our Psycho-Social Support (PSS) and Child-Friendly Space initiatives give refugee women and children coping mechanisms to mitigate trauma while increasing critical thinking skills among children, especially younger ones, violence reduction among peers, and greater connectivity and comfort with their host community at large. The UMR Jordan PSS team supports children by listening to them, providing them with a safe space and atmosphere to express their feelings and work through the pain, consequently, transforming their negative emotions into something productive. The PSS project also emphasizes the importance of strengthening their social environment, which has a great effect on the beneficiaries’ psychological health and development on various levels; with the family, community, and the beneficiaries themselves.

The UMR Jordan PSS team has also adopted “We Love Reading”- an informal education curriculum designed for children who have experienced education disruption due to conflict. Refugees who do attend regular schooling are often victims of bullying which increases social isolation and can exacerbate mental trauma. “We Love Reading” is designed to teach young children literacy skills, introduce critical thinking through play therapy, and cultivate an early thirst for education that can carry forward when formal schooling options become available.

The program also provides awareness sessions, for topics such as sexual harassment, bullying, hygiene, emotional intelligence-EI, ethics, counseling, and psychotherapy sessions (PTSD, and Psychiatric Disturbance) in order to help them cope with their environment and society.

UMR Jordan initially:

  1. Assesses the social, financial, mental and physical health condition of a family; women and children (age 6-18), through house visits
  2. Studies and evaluates the situation of children and women according to their age, social, mental, and emotional needs, in addition to their social environment statuses, for the enrollment of UMR’s specialized PSS programs
  3. Builds up the entire program that properly fits their needs. It is usually divided into 4-6 awareness and counseling sessions and at least 12 sessions for psychotherapy

This is an ongoing program. Since its inception in 2016, 104 teenagers 13-18 years old, have attended the PSS activities designed to help them positively express their emotions, cultivate positive parent-child relations, find productive hobbies, and reduction of physical and emotional aggression towards themselves and others.

694 children between 5 and 12 years old attended PSS activities and been engaged in play therapy designed to help them express their feelings and build their self-esteem. They also discover appropriate behaviors when interfacing with parents, siblings, teachers, and elderly people to rebuild communal connections often lost to refugees.

Pakistan Child Protection

Pakistan is dubbed as one of the next eleven countries with ‘economic potential’, however with its ongoing political and security concerns, the country has seen a decline with almost a quarter of the population living under a $1 a day. Majority of whom are women and children. Millions of primary aged going children are dropping out of school, and do not have access to quality education and instead are being forced into child labour. Areas within South Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan are heavily populated with people living under the poverty line with very minimum access to basic essentials such as food, clean water and shelter. Pakistan has also been affected by ongoing climate changes with heavy floods and earthquakes destroying millions of homes and leaving many more displaced and living on the streets.

UMR’s child protection mechanism in Pakistan aimed to strengthen economic opportunities for children and their families. Through Child Protection Program UMR Provided Monthly Based Cash Assistance to the 100 Orphan Children and Families Helped them to have Access to the Basic Needs and Paved the Way for 8850 boys and girls to gain Education.  UMR, in partnerships with Takhleeq Foundation, contacted with local social leaders, local mosques, local school teacher, community leader and also the women councilors in Taluka Mirpur Sakro, Gharo and Dgabe jee of District Thatta as they are catalysts for community change in this area and know very well to address the needs of the children in their communities. All children are registered & selected based on objective criteria that establish their need and their ability to benefit from the program.

Eid Gifts for Orphans

Eid is a day of celebration and happiness for Muslims throughout the world. However, for many children, this happiness is tarnished by poverty, depriving them the luxury of new clothes even on this festive day.

This year, why not donate an Eid gift and make this wonderful celebration really special for a vulnerable child? Our Eid gifts only cost $25 and will put a smile on the face of a little orphan.

Wehdat Disability Center

The primary objective of the Wehdat Disability Center is to train and rehabilitate male and female Palestinian refugee youth with disabilities in Amman, Jordan on a number of skills (self-care, cognitive, social, academic, vocational training) to integrate them into society and empower them to be able to support themselves in their daily life and also find some jobs. The Wehdat Disability Center serves 107 people and the waiting list has exceeded 330.

The mission of the Center is to foster independence and self-reliance for people with minor to moderate disabilities. Services provided for Al-Hajah’s clients include academic and vocational support to allow for economic integration into their host country of Jordan and workshops on development of social and life skills to increase self-sufficiency.

Applicants to the program undergo a rigorous process that includes an interview, home visit, and physical assessment. Based on assessment results, clients are presented with a work plan and curriculum tailored to their individual needs through wraparound service in: non-formal education, skills building workshops on self-sufficiency and self-care, physiotherapy, nursing. Meals, and transportation from the client’s home to site of service are also included. UMR will focus on vocational training, skills building workshops, and non-formal education.

Vocational workshops include: handcrafts, weaving, cleaning, and carpentry

Life skills workshops include: hygiene, setting a routine, cooking, and ironing

Back to School

What Would Your Children Do IF THEY WERE NOT IN SCHOOL?

Whether it be due to poverty, war, or displacement, thousands of children in Jordan, Kenya, & Lebanon are unable to attend to school. What most people don’t realize is that when children are deprived of education, oftentimes they are forced into child labor or child marriage. The UN says 180,000 refugee children living in Lebanon are forgoing an education to work long hours for as little as $2/day.

Many children in the refugee camps lack even the most basic school supplies. Parents, having limited funds, are faced with a predicament- putting food on the table or supplying pencils to write with. Hunger, almost always, takes precedence.

UMR’s annual Back to School Campaign aims to reduce the chances that children are left out of schools.

How You Can Help

When the opportunity of education is taken away, usually the chance of a successful future disappears along with it. It is time that we start recognizing education as a right, not a privilege.

With your generous donations, UMR provides children in Jordan, Kenya, & Lebanon with a backpack filled with school supplies such as pencils, crayons, rulers, and erasers.

Give a child a chance to hope, learn, and dream. One backpack can bring a child closer to achieving their goals, regardless of where life has taken them.

Don’t let another child get left behind.


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