Vulnerabilities of migrant and forcibly displaced children

Excerpt from the IOM report, “Fatal Journeys, Vol. 4

July 26, 2019

In 2017, 258 million people were living outside their country of birth worldwide; 30 million of them were children (UN DESA, 2017; UNICEF, 2018d). Children are a particularly vulnerable (albeit non-homogenous) group of migrant and displaced populations, and even more so under irregular conditions. It stands to reason that they are usually not as resilient as adults and more susceptible to being hurt, as they have physically and psychologically not reached maturity and are less experienced in navigating society.

Yet, data and evidence on migrant and forcibly displaced children’s vulnerabilities are limited. Despite this initial evidence on children’s vulnerability, there is poor analytical understanding of the concept, what constitutes vulnerabilities, how it might be amplified or diminished by different factors, and how it is manifested in real-life situations. Research is scarce and only provides limited insight into the many determining factors of vulnerability and the ways in which these interact with and reinforce one another.

This chapter examines the relationship between vulnerability, resilience and risk to get a better sense of the challenges and dangers that migrant and forcibly displaced children face and which, in the worst case, can lead to disappearance or death. It outlines children’s manifold vulnerabilities in different contexts and show how vulnerability can differ dependent on a series of factors. Due to space constraints, the text focuses primarily on undocumented children travelling in mixed migration movements and the vulnerabilities they face on their journeys. It focuses less on the risks they experience in destination countries, upon return to their home country or a safe third country, or on the vulnerabilities of children migrating along regular pathways.