Over the next year, I’ll be working on some research supported by Oak Foundation* that will look at the intersection of ICTs and children who migrate, a.k.a. ‘Children on the Move.’ As part of the research, we will be conducting a Twitter chat on Tuesday, August 14, at 9h EST and an ongoing online discussion hosted by New Tactics from October 17 through 23.
I hope interested folks will join to share experiences, good practice, challenges, thoughts and ideas on the intersection of ICTs and Children on the Move.
Globally, some 214 million persons are international migrants. In addition, there are an estimated 740 million internal migrants according to the Global Movement for Children. Youth make up a large share of migrants from and in developing countries. Shifts in demographic factors, economic disparity, violent conflict and state failure, natural disasters, resource and environmental pressures, especially climate change, and lack of opportunities for education or employment mean that this number is likely to increase. About one-third of migrants from developing countries are between the ages of 12 and 25, including millions of children under the age of 18. (Stats from here.) “Yet, in debates on both child protection and migration, children who move are largely invisible. As a result, policy responses to support these vulnerable children are fragmented and inconsistent.”
‘Children on the Move’
Children migrate and move for a host of reasons. They may move on their own will to seek improved opportunities. They may be escaping violence and abuse in the home or at school or running away from an arranged marriage or other cultural practice. They may move due to a lack of opportunity, reduced resources, conflict, or disaster. They may want to get away from life in a refugee camp, or flee other kinds of hardship. They might migrate together with parents or other adults, or they may go alone or with others their age. The migration decision may be made by children themselves, or they may be encouraged by their parents.
In the past, the phenomenon of child mobility has not been seen in its full scope. Children who migrated were often automatically lumped in with those who were trafficked against their will. Programs to support children on the move have not always addressed the variety of motivations and situations. This lack of understanding of the myriad of reasons for children’s mobility has hindered efforts to support and protect them in their different scenarios. More recently efforts have been made to better understand children’s mobility, for example this fascinating 2008-2010 regional study project, supported by a broad platform of child protection agencies, documented and analyzed the many forms taken by the mobility of children and youths in West and Central Africa.
The term ‘Children on the Move‘ has been suggested to describe this group of children under the age of 18 who have aims, motivations and different life circumstances. This is a group which transcends categories. These children may be in a ‘pre-mobility, mobility or post-mobility’ situation (either having arrived to a destination or having returned home). They may also be ‘children left behind’ by their parents or guardians, who, without abandoning them, have emigrated for work within their country of residence or abroad. They may be stateless children, who also suffer the risks and vulnerabilities of mobility.
Risks Children on the Move face
When children move against their will, and /or in absence of protection services and actors, they become highly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, exploitation and other abuses. This vulnerability is present before they move, during their trip, once they reach a new destination or even after they return home, and therefore support and protection need to be considered from the time they are thinking about moving (or others are thinking about moving them), through the actual migration or ‘move’, upon their arrival, and in the case of their return. In addition, some children may be involved in a series of migrations or they may migrate seasonally. “During movement, a child can float from one sub category to the other. For example, an internally displaced child can be recruited by armed forces or moved across borders for the purpose of exploitation. The risks and opportunities differ per trajectory and conditions of movement,” according to the CoM website.
Children who migrate often face discrimination and marginalization due to beliefs and policies that treat migration as a problem and children who migrate as criminals, and therefore a great deal of work needs to be done to change perceptions and increase societal awareness around the situation of children on the move. Protecting children and reducing their risk of exploitation is a mandate, regardless of the reasons for which they move or migrate.
A systemic approach to protection
In order to improve support for and protection of children on the move, it’s important to look at the situation holistically and systemically and to include the aforementioned different phases of mobility. In addition, several areas need consideration, including children’s own needs and rights; children’s self-protection; community-based protection; government responsibilities and social services; advocacy and public policy and so on. Duty bearers and donors need to improve coordination across silos and borders in order to get better at information exchange, research and data analysis; the creation of prevention and awareness strategies and programs; monitoring actions during all stages; and feedback mechanisms and accountability. (See the proceedings from the CoM Conference for more details.)
Alongside the growth in children’s mobility, access to new technologies, specifically the mobile phone, has exploded. Yet most often, when child protection and ICTs are mentioned in the same sentence, it is with regard to cyber security and protecting children from the Internet or potential on-line predators.
ICTs are playing a huge role in connecting diaspora with those ‘back home.’ The question arises: How are or how could ICTs be enhancing child protection initiatives and supporting children on the move.
The positive and empowering role of ICTs to support children’s self-protection, improve information and communication via new technology tools and enhance systemic approaches to risk reduction has not been fully developed with regard to child protection in its broader sense, or with regard to child mobility and child protection.
The research will aim to compile a ‘State of the Practice’ report that will include examples and case studies of current ICT use by, with, among and for CoM; applicable cases and lessons learned from other sectors; gaps, challenges, areas where ICTs may pose new or additional risk; and remaining questions and challenges for future exploration and collaboration.
Certainly new questions, frameworks and areas to explore will arise along the way, but at present, questions include:
- What needs do children have in different categories and stages of mobility and how are these being (or how could they be) enhanced via better use of new ICTs?
- Which new technologies are already accessible and being used by various stakeholders (e.g. children, parents and caretakers, intermediaries, broader communities, local child protection committees and ‘safe houses’, local institutions, social workers, experts, civil servants, governments, national and international NGOs, local and national law enforcement agencies), especially children, adolescents and youth; during pre-mobility, mobility and post-mobility, and upon return, endogenous or institutional, and for what purpose or to what end?
- What information and communication systems are currently in use at child and family, community, district, national, transnational /regional and global levels for supporting or protecting children on the move and can these systems be improved, promoted or better accessed using new ICTs such as mobile phones?
- Are there existing scalable, replicable or adaptable examples of the use of ICTs in this area we can learn from? What were the successes, challenges, failures and lessons/good practices?
- Can new ICTs support communication for development (C4D) approaches and models to help children on the move protect themselves, inform them of available support, and/or change broader societal attitudes toward migrating children to more positive and supportive ones?
- What can we learn from how ICTs are being used in other areas (health, human rights monitoring, data gathering / tracking, early warning systems, disasters and emergencies)? Which of these might lend themselves to use with, for, among and by children on the move? Are there relevant evaluations or case studies we can look at and learn from?
- What are the specific challenges and risks in terms of children on the move that need special attention and exploration when designing programs or eco-systems that integrate ICTs? Security? Privacy? Connectivity? Cost? Context? Sustainability? Feasibility?
- Where do we take it from here (what needs to happen next)?
Please join us for the Twitter chat on August 14 at 9 a.m. EST. We’ll be using the hashtag #CoMandICT for the discussion and to keep track of future Twitter conversations on this topic. Stay tuned here at Wait… What? or contact me @meowtree or by email for more information.
Please also consider joining the broader discussion on “Empowering Communities with Technology Tools to Protect Children” the week of October 17-23 hosted by our friends over at New Tactics.
Some related resources:
The excellent 2008 report by the African Movement of Working Children and Youth: Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made?
The AMWCY’s 2009 report “From the gong gong to ICTs“
The fascinating study by a consortium of child protection groups on Child Mobility in West and Central Africa.