Children and youth migrating – whether between or within countries and whether accompanied by their relatives or not – have become a recognized part of today’s global and mixed migration flows. Nevertheless, in research and policy debates, the migration of children and youth is considered a new area of concern and focus. Information on children who are migrating is consequently little reflected in global debates on migration. Often, academic and policy discussions tend to represent children as passive victims of exploitation, possibly even including trafficking situations, coerced to move and work in exploitative situations. However, recent research and policy approaches to unaccompanied migrant children are revealing and addressing the varying experiences of children migrating – both positive and negative. Independent child migration is not necessarily an exploitative or damaging experience for children, but rather a multidimensional phenomenon. Children can be actively involved in the decision-making process regarding their future, including the decision to continue their education, to work or to combine both. Nonetheless, policy responses to support these unaccompanied migrant children are fragmented and inconsistent, and the lack of subject-specific expertise is a persisting problem. In line with the increased attention paid to child migration as part of a larger phenomenon of family migration, transnational families and family reunification, the work of IOM has substantially grown in relation to providing assistance to children on the move, particularly those who are unaccompanied. As a global agency working on migration, it is of major importance for IOM to strengthen and support coherent approaches to unaccompanied migrant children. In this regard, the Organization is collecting operational data and programmatic information on this population of migrants to better address their needs.
The document aims to provide an overview of the scope of activities of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in relation to the protection of unaccompanied migrant children and support for this group. It significantly draws on IOM’s operational data and programmatic information, collected through internal knowledge management tools; at the same time, this information is supplemented by a mapping of the activities of IOM Field Offices covering the period 2009–2011. This paper also benefits from a review of existing international standards and policy frameworks as well as recent research conducted on the topic of unaccompanied migrant children.