Rights, not charity

All rights contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child apply to all children, including those who are refugees, internally displaced, migrants, seeking asylum or stateless. This list spells out some of the ways in which the rights of children in these situations are breached.

Article 1: Definition of the child

Article 1 defines children as all human beings below 18. Children who have fled their country with or without their family often arrive in a foreign location without a passport or any other form of identity document. Immigration authorities routinely suspect children in these circumstances of saying they are younger than they are to receive more lenient treatment. This means they can be subjected to traumatic and unreliable age-determination procedures, which also raise questions around consent and medical ethics.

Article 2: Non-discrimination

If children make it through the gauntlet of immigration channels, they tend to be treated first and foremost according to their status as migrants or refugees, etc. with their status as children pushed aside. These children also face discrimination in everyday life. In many places they are not entitled to access health care, education or social security benefits on an equal basis with others. In some places, even their physical movement is restricted.

Article 3: Best interests of the child

Children's best interests should be at the forefront of all decisions that affect them in every situation: decisions relating to separation from their family, repatriation, detention, return and reintegration, and all other aspects of their lives.

Article 4: Implementation of the Convention

When States ratify international treaties, they agree to take measures to put them into practice. Article 4 of the CRC obligates States parties to implement the Convention by taking "all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures". Where economic, social and cultural rights are concerned, States should take such measures to "the maximum extent of their available resources" and, where necessary, seek international cooperation. This means countries must be prepared to offer that international cooperation.

Article 6: Right to survival and development

States must do more to protect children's right to life than refraining from using the death penalty. They should also put measures in place to enable children to survive into adulthood in conditions optimal for their development. This includes protecting them from harm and trauma, and by supporting them to secure an adequate standard of living. In this connection, States should respect the principle of “non-refoulement” by ensuring people who are entitled to protection under asylum and international refugee law receive it. This is central to guaranteeing the right to life and development.

Article 7: Right to a name, nationality, to know parents as far as possible

If children grow up in a foreign nation, they may inherit the legal status of their parents. Sometimes children born to refugee parents find themselves in an even more precarious situation than their parents - they may be stateless because they cannot inherit their parents' nationality if they were not born in their country, yet are not entitled to the nationality of the country in which they themselves were born either. The right to a nationality is a core element of all individuals' identity. Without it, people remain invisible: they have no legal status, no voice, and are at greater risk of other abuses.

Article 9: Separation from parents

Children should be able to live and have contact with their parents unless certain factors indicate that the State should intervene, such as abuse or because a child’s parents have separated. These factors do not include a parent or child's immigration status. In fact, where there is a risk of separation because a child's parents are held in immigration detention, an alternative measure to detention should be found for the whole family. All decisions to separate children from their parents must be made by the competent authorities.

Article 10: Family reunification

Children should be able to maintain relationships with their family when they are in separate countries. This is particularly true in deportation cases where strict immigration rules can lead to a parent being deported from a given country when the child has a legal right to stay.

Article 12: Right to be heard

Children have the right to be heard in all matters affecting them, including in asylum proceedings - this is a prerequisite for guaranteeing all their other rights. For this right to have meaning, all decision-making processes must be conducted in a manner and environment that is appropriate to the child's age and circumstances.

Article 16: Right to privacy

The desire to make a news story more forceful should never be prioritised over protecting the privacy of a child or his or her family if this is likely to cause further harm or distress. This includes harrowing images of children affected by humanitarian crises aimed at eliciting charitable funds.

Article 19: Protection from violence

Unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to all forms of violence - often at the hands of people smugglers - with nowhere to turn to complain and seek redress.

Article 22: Refugee children

Almost half the world’s forcibly displaced people are children. Children who are refugees, internally displaced or seeking asylum in another country are extremely vulnerable, whether they are with their parents or alone. They have experienced and witnessed things that no one ever should. If they survive and make it to a safe place they are often faced with harsh immigration processes (including lengthy detention) and societies that are hostile to them. For this reason, States must give these children special protection.

Article 24: Rights to health and health services

A lack of basic provisions and ongoing upheaval - from the reasons that prompted children to flee, to uncertainty about the future - heighten their vulnerability to mental and physical health problems. But children’s right to the highest attainable standard of health is non-negotiable. Some court decisions have recognised the vulnerability of children compared to that of adults in relation to the provision of health care. The European Committee of Social Rights found that France acted contrary to the rights of children, but not adults, by ending the exemption of undocumented migrants with very low incomes from charges for medical and hospital treatment, under article 13 of Revised European Social Charter.

Article 27: Right to an adequate standard of living

Children's development depends on their ability to enjoy a decent standard of living. Many children who are refugees, migrants or seeking asylum are not able to access the basics of adequate clothing, nutrition, and housing, let alone the other elements which are needed to secure children's wellbeing and inclusion in society. These include having sufficient time and places to play, the right to a clean environment, and services to enable them to recover from trauma, among others.

Article 28: Right to education

Children who have been uprooted are often shut out of education both in their country of origin because the education system has collapsed and of destination because of discrimination. But education is the basis of children's development as individuals and citizens, and of a future democratic and stable society.

Articles 37: Torture and deprivation of liberty

Children who have fled their home countries often face harsh asylum processes, including detention - sometimes alongside adults. This can happen even in places where children's detention with adults has been outlawed in the juvenile justice system. Children should never be detained full stop, and certainly never because of their or their parents’ migration status. Any such detention would go against their best interests. Also see article 9 on separation from parents.

Article 39: Rehabilitation of child victims

Governments should put in place measures to rehabilitate any child who has been a victim of any form of violence, including neglect, abuse, torture and conflict, among others. These measures include appropriate health care, social services and legal assistance. These should all be adapted to children’s needs and take place in an environment that promotes their health, dignity and self-respect.

Article 40: Administration of juvenile justice

Children are often criminalised or punished because of their or their parents' migration status instead of being given the protection they need. Children trapped in an adult legal system lack the experience and resources to defend their legal rights. This fails them, their families, communities and the rest of society. We need to stop making children criminals, including those with an irregular legal status. Instead we must focus on their rehabilitation as victims and inclusion in society.