Migration is central to the current political debate as well as to the development discussion, especially in conversations about the “post 2015” agenda, the ‘youth bulge’, and youth employment. Prevention work is not likely to end migration, regardless of the organizations and governments working to improve the well-being of children and youth in their home communities. In fact, improved economic capacity may actually enhance people’s capacity to migrate.
Our Technology Salon on January 16, 2014, discussed the role of ICTs in child and youth migration, ways ICTs are influencing migration, how ICTs could make migration safer and more productive, and ideas for mobile applications that would be useful for child and youth migrants. We welcomed Ravi Karkara, United Nations Inter-agency Network on Youth Development; Lucas Codognolla, Lead Coordinator, Connecticut Students for a DREAM; and Michael Boampong, Migration and Development Consultant, UNDP, as our lead discussants.
Some areas on where and how ICTs are playing or could play a role:
- Sending money / remittances / mobile money. Costs to transfer money need to be reduced. Some studies have shown that the African diaspora pays up to 20% for money transfers. More needs to be done to extend mobile money services, especially in rural areas.
- Finding a job. Many youth use ICTs from the very start of the migration process to look for work. They may also use ICTs to find work in their home countries if they return.
- Getting a visa to migrate legally. Most legal immigration processes require making appointments with Embassies via the Internet and the ability to communicate via email.
- Identifying migration routes. Often, youth who migrate irregularly investigate routes online before their departure. GPS can also help during transit. One program in Mexico is developing a “safe migration map” that provides crowd-sourced, near real-time information to migrants on which areas are experiencing high crime or other dangers so that they can migrate more safely.
- Reporting abuse. Child help lines are expanding their services across many countries and providing support, advice and help to children in case of emergency or abuse, including during migration. Many help lines are experimenting with text messaging.
- Connecting with other youth in similar situations. Youth who have an irregular migration status are able to find others in the same circumstances and feel less alone. They can also connect with peers and organizations who can provide support, help and advice.
- Keeping in touch with parents/family. ICT are useful for children and youth keep families informed of how they are doing, and to ask for support and help. The African Movement for Working Children and Youth works with telecoms operators to provide a free number to children and youth who migrate in West Africa. Parents and children can remain in touch that way while children are moving from one town to the next.
- Sharing information on migration rights. Organizations like Connecticut Students for a DREAM use ICTs and social media to reach out to youth who have an irregular migration status to provide support and to engage them in organized advocacy activities. The organization encourages sharing of stories and a safe space to discuss migration difficulties. The “Pocket DACA” application helps young migrants understand the deferred action law and apply for it.
- Engaging, organizing, and influencing government. Youth in the US are organizing via Facebook and other social media platforms. In some cases, government officials have reached out to these groups for advice on legislation.
Participants pointed out that:
Children/youth are not always victims. Often the discourse around children’s movement/migration is centered on trafficking, protection and vulnerability rather than rights, power and choices. More needs to be done to empower children and youth and to provide opportunities and participation avenues. At the same time, more needs to be done to create opportunities at home so that children and youth do not feel like their home situation is hopeless and that migration is the only option.
Children and youth are not a homogeneous population. When thinking about ICTs and children/youth, it’s important to know the context and design programs that are relevant to specific children and young people. Age, wealth, sex, literacy and other aspects need to be considered so that ICT applications are useful. Both traditional communication and ICTs need to be used depending on the population.
ICTs can widen generation gaps. In some cases, ICTs increase the communication divide among generations. Older people may feel that youth are working in a medium that they are not skilled at using, and that youth are not considering their input and advice. This can create conflict and reduce levels of support that might otherwise be provided from community leaders, elders and government officials.
The role of the State needs more thought. Often irregular migration happens because legal channels are difficult to navigate or they are prohibitive. The role of ICTs in influencing or facilitating legal migration needs more thought, as does the potential role of ICTs in advocating for change. The State may not always be friendly to migration, however, so the topic is controversial. States may also use ICTs for surveillance of youth or migrating populations, especially in places where there is political or ethnic conflict, so ICTs may put people in extreme danger.
Risks need to be considered. There are serious risks associated with using ICTs in general, and especially with vulnerable populations. These include everything from online grooming and risks of being lured into trafficking or sex work, to scamming sites that take advantage of youth, to political aspects such as surveillance and targeting of certain populations of youth by the State or other armed groups. ICTs could be a way to help break conspiracies of silence and to report and speak out about human rights abuses, but care needs to be taken that people are not put at risk when they do so.
ICTs need to fit local contexts. Rural areas are less connected and so other forms of information and communication are often more common. Both online and offline means need to be used when working with children and youth. In addition, different social media tools and platforms are used in different places. For example, though the end of Facebook is heralded by some in the US, because youth are reportedly fleeing as older people join the site, Facebook is taking off in Latin America, where many organizations use it for engaging youth and helping them to organize and get informed about their rights.
Not much is known about children, youth, ICTs and migration. The area of child migration is relatively weak in terms of research. The upcoming World Youth Report centers on child and youth migration and has been a highly controversial process. Migration needs to be considered from an evolving age perspective, with focus on aspects that impact on children, adolescents and youth differentially. A gender perspective needs to be included. There is also a difference between children and youth who migrate for employment and those who move due to conflict or who are seeking asylum, and deeper knowledge is needed in all of these different areas.
Recommendations for future efforts included:
- More youth voice and support for youth movements in the area of migration
- More involvement of youth in the debate/dialogue on migration and ICTs
- Micro-grants for youth who want to work on migration initiatives, including those that use ICTs
- More nuanced research and understanding of the role of ICTs in child and youth migration with specific lenses on age, sex, ethnicity, and other factors
Resources on ICTs and child/youth migration:
- Plan International USA recently completed a study titled Modern Mobility: the role of ICTs in child and youth migration.
- On February 14, 2014, the United Nations will launch the World Youth Report on youth migration and development. The report includes information on the role of ICTs.
- As part of the global “World We Want” consultations, the UN and Civil Society groups hosted an online discussion on Youth Migration, Equity and Inequalities, Post-2015. The final report on the discussion is available here.
Salons are held under Chatham House Rule, therefore no attribution has been made in this post. Many thanks to our lead discussants and to ThoughtWorks for hosting and providing breakfast.
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