By Prudence Arobani
The UN has said that no fewer than seven million children in West and Central Africa are uprooted from their homes each year due to violence, poverty and climate change.
UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in the latest report ‘In Search of Opportunities: Voices of children on the move in West and Central Africa’ said there children in West and Central Africa are moving out of their countries in greater numbers than ever before.
The UN agency also raised the alarm with projections that this number would continue to rise, and has, therefore, called for greater efforts to ensure that migrant and displaced children are protected from exploitation and abuse.
Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for the region, while announcing the findings, said that almost a third of the number of moving children remained in Sub-Saharan Africa and less than one in five headed to Europe.
“Children in West and Central Africa are moving in greater numbers than ever before, majority of them within Africa, not to Europe or elsewhere.
“We must broaden the discussion on migration to encompass the vulnerabilities of all children on the move and expand systems to protect them, in all their intended destinations,” Poirier said.
The report, based on a series of interviews with migrants and their families from several countries, had revealed a complex set of drivers for migration beyond poverty.
UNICEF said in addition to conflict, insecurity, poverty and lack of services, climate change was also forcing many in West and Central Africa to leave their homes.
Furthermore, with estimates that the region could see a three to four degree Celsius rise in temperature this century, more than one and a half times higher than anywhere else in the world, increased tensions and hostilities over access to resources could push even greater numbers of people to move elsewhere.
UNICEF said in the midst of such projections, the region’s lack of sufficient protection systems, both within and across borders, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of refugee and migrant children is particularly concerning.
The UN agency called on policy makers to place children at the centre of any response to migration.
“This can be done by strengthening the chain of protection for children between countries of origin, transit and destination.
“The close cooperation of governments, UN, and non-governmental partners is critical to ensure children’s access to healthcare, education and other essential services, regardless of their migration status,” UNICEF added.
UNICEF has also called on all governments, in the region, in Europe and elsewhere to adopt the six-point Agenda for Action for the protection of refugee and migrant children.
The Agenda for Action calls for greater protection of child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence.
The agency also calls for ending detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives, and keeping families together as the best way to protect children and give them legal status.
UNICEF calls for protection of all refugee and migrant kids learning and giving them access to health and other quality services.
The agency also called on governments, UN, and non-governmental partners to act on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; and promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalisation in countries of transit and destination.