Professor Bhabha: States Have an Obligation to Protect Migrant Children

Jacqueline Bhabha

A new International Organization for Migration (IOM) report released today takes a closer look at the deaths and disappearances of migrants around the world.

Fatal Journeys: Volume 4” focuses on missing migrant children. According to IOM data, nearly 1,600 children have been reported dead or missing since 2014 – a likely undercount. Although it is well known that children are one of the most vulnerable groups of migrants, data on this topic are quite limited.

The report’s third chapter, written by Harvard FXB’s director of research, Professor Jacqueline Bhabha, focuses on the “Legal obligations of States with regard to child migrant deaths and disappearance.” Professor Bhabha’s chapter provides an overview of State obligations to protect children on the move and prevent their death or disappearance during and after migration. Key obligations are to not discriminate, and to act in the best interest of the child, regardless of if they are citizens, permanent residents, or temporary migrants. Ways to fulfill this obligation include providing education and health care for all children.

Professor Bhabha also writes about Objective 8 of the Global Compact for Migration, which calls on States to “save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants.” The chapter closes by highlighting the work undertaken by the Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts.

In her chapter, Professor Bhabha stresses that political will is not enough to protect the health and rights of migrant children. Specifically, she writes:

Though robust political will is critical to the success of migration policies for children, it is insufficient. These policies depend on much more effective data collection, as a transparent and up-to-date source of information to inform the work and decision-making of relevant actors. Policies also depend on vigorous enforcement of non-discrimination practice as an overarching principle so that all migrants, irrespective of their age, gender, legal status or race, are treated with equal respect and accorded the same dignity in life and death as any human being.

Important progress in identifying the principles needed to ensure the dignified treatment of missing and deceased migrants and their families has been made with the Mytilini Declaration by a coalition of concerned civil society actors, but a considerable amount of work remains. Only by determined and consistent political leadership will the urgent imperative to anticipate harm to migrant children, avert it wherever possible and promptly attend to it when prevention fails to move from worthy but abstract agreements and declarations to diligent on-the-ground protective practice that is so urgently needed to ensure the rights of all children, including those affected by the challenges of contemporary migration.

To read the full report, click here.

The Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights envisions a world that fulfills the human rights of all people, with a special attention to children, and protects them from injustices imposed by discrimination, poverty, conflict, and disaster. We use the highest quality interdisciplinary approaches to promote equity and dignity for those oppressed by racism, poverty, and stigma, nationally and around the world.