With an estimated one billion children living in extremely high risk to the impacts of climate change, the United Nations have come out with a set of guidelines to protect, include and empower children forced to flee their homes due to the climate crisis.
The Guiding Principles for Children on the Move in the Context of Climate Change, launched by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and the United Nations University (UNU), marks the first-ever global effort to address this increasingly major concern.
THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES
1: Rights-based approach; Children who move in the context of climate change maintain all rights of children as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
2: Best interests of the child; In all decisions and actions affecting children on the move in the context of climate change, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
3: Accountability; Governments and other actors are accountable for their decisions and actions that contribute to children’s mobility in the context of climate change.
4: Awareness and participation in decision-making; Children have the right to be informed, consulted and to participate in making decisions to move or stay in the context of climate change, in line with their ‘age and maturity’, recognizing the rights of the parents (or of caregivers in the case of unaccompanied or separated children) to provide appropriate guidance to the child in exercising these rights
5: Family unity; Children who move in the context of climate change have the right to be cared for by their parents or caregivers and to not be separated from them. If separation does occur, children have the right to special protection and assistance by the State which should ensure their temporary alternative care and take all measures necessary to reunite them with their parents or other relatives.
6: Protection, safety and security; In all decisions and actions affecting children on the move in the context of climate change, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
7: Access to education, health care and social services; Children who move in the context of climate change have the right to access education, health care and other social services, at all stages of their journeys.
8: Non-discrimination; Children on the move in the context of climate change have the right to non-discriminatory treatment and to provisions necessary to enable them to exercise their rights, irrespective of their or their parents’ migratory status.
9: Nationality; When stateless children move in the context of climate change, or when
children become stateless as a result of moving away from their country of nationality, States have an obligation to ensure that they have a nationality including, where necessary, granting them the nationality of the receiving State.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES; SAFEGUARDING FUTURE GENERATIONS
IOM Director General António Vitorino said that the climate emergency has and will continue to have profound implications for human mobility. “Its impacts will be most severe with particular segments of our communities such as children; we cannot endanger future generations,” he said.
He further said although migrant children are particularly vulnerable when moving in the context of climate change, their needs and aspirations are still overlooked in policy debates.
“With these guiding principles we aim to ensure visibility to their needs and rights, both in policy debates and programming. Managing migration and addressing displacement of children in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters, is an immense challenge that we must address now.”
GUIDING PRINCIPLES; YOUNG LIVES AT RISK
The parties to the guidelines say that children are physically more vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of climate change and environmental hazards, especially in the developing world. They noted that nearly ten million children were displaced following weather-related shocks in 2020 alone. They also estimated that nearly half of the world’s 2.2 billion children, or roughly one billion boys and girls, live in 33 countries at high risk of the impacts of climate change.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell noted that rising sea levels, hurricanes, wildfires, and failing crops are pushing more and more children and families from their homes. “Displaced children are at greater risk of abuse, trafficking, and exploitation. They are more likely to lose access to education and healthcare. And they are frequently forced into early marriage and child labour,” she said.
The Guiding Principles are intended to be used by local and national governments, international organizations and civil society groups working with children on the move in the context of climate change. These principles apply to all children who move in the context of climate change, whether they move within their country of origin or to international destinations, whether they move temporarily or permanently, whether they move on their own or with caretakers, and whether they move through regular or irregular channels. The Guiding Principles also apply to children who cannot or choose not to move, including children ‘left behind’ by migrating parents, and whose enjoyment of rights may be negatively impacted by climate change.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES; QUOTES
Director of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration Elizabeth Ferris; “While the new guidelines do not offer new legal obligations, they distill and leverage key principles that have already been affirmed in international law and adopted by governments around the world. We urge all governments to review their policies in light of the guiding principles and take measures now that will ensure children on the move in the face of climate change are protected today and in the future.”
Executive Director of United Nations University Centre for Policy Research David Passarelli; “The international community has been sounding the alarm on climate change and environmental degradation for years, as well as the likelihood of mass human displacement. These predictions have come true with climate-related migration observed in all parts of the world. Among those that move because of the rapidly changing climate are an increasing number of children. While these children benefit from a range of international and national protections, the subject matter is highly technical and difficult to access, creating a protection deficit for child migrants.”
UNU, UNICEF, and our partners have stressed the need for concise guidelines that communicate risks, protections, and rights in clear and accessible language. The Guiding Principles for Children on the Move in the Context of Climate Change were developed with this specific objective in mind. This tool helps navigate the complex nexus of migrant rights, children’s rights, and climate change in order to respond more quickly and effectively to the needs of children on the move in the context of climate change.”
Climate change is not an environmental crisis. It is children’s rights crisis. Climate change threatens children’s rights to food, water, health, home and education.Ninety per cent of diseases results from climate crisis are likely to affect children under the age of five. A further 24 million children by 2050 are reported to be undernourished because of climate crisis. Several reports say that by 2040, one in four children will be living in areas with extreme water shortages. Education of around 38 million children is disrupted each year.