During his General Audience this week, Pope Francis brought attention to Universal Children’s Day, to be commemorated worldwide on November 20. Pope Francis “appealed to the conscience of all, institutions and families, to ensure that children are always protected and their welfare is secure, so that they never fall into ‘forms of slavery, recruitment into armed groups and mistreatment.’”
Established by the United Nations in 1954, Universal Children’s Day is this year focused on the plight of child migrants. Pope Francis echoed this focus in his message for the 103rd World Day of Migrants and Refugees to be commemorated on January 15, 2017. He wrote, “Children are the first among those to pay the heavy toll of emigration, almost always caused by violence, poverty and environmental conditions… Unrestrained competition for quick and easy profit brings with it the cultivation of perverse scourges such as child trafficking, the exploitation and abuse of minors and, generally, the depriving of rights intrinsic to childhood as sanctioned by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. … And yet among migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group because … they are invisible and voiceless: their precarious situation deprives them of documentation, hiding them from the world’s eyes; the absence of adults to accompany them prevents their voices from being raised and heard.”
Among the organizations responding to this call of Pope Francis, Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) has joined the cause and wishes to shed light on the terrible situation.
JRS explained the urgency of the situation in a recent press release and stated that “migrant and refugee children, particularly when traveling unaccompanied, are invisible to the world and an easy target for smugglers, traffickers and sexual abuse. They are most at risk of exploitation and abuse, including recruitment into militias or criminal groups, and being victims of organ trafficking, child sex trafficking, child labor and early marriage. In 2015, 68 percent of all trafficked persons in the world were children. Europol estimated that 10,000 children had gone missing after arriving and registering with state authorities in Europe over the past two years, many of whom are feared to have ‘fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates.'”
In addition to highlighting the difficulties child migrants face, JRS has published a joint statement calling on governments to respond to the crisis. They stated:
“We ask governments:
• To guarantee the protection of children and their right to seek and enjoy asylum in a safe and legal way. Restrictive policies force refugees and migrants to take precarious routes, resulting in thousands of deaths at sea or in the desert. By creating safe and legal channels of entry, including access to humanitarian visas, resettlement and wider family reunification, lives would be saved and smuggling reduced. This will make a reality the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration, which 193 UN Member States called for unanimously at the UN General Assembly Summit of Refugees and Migrants 19 September.
• To ensure children have the space to grow up in peace and safety by putting in place protection mechanisms and employing better asylum policies. Their rights to health, housing, education, psychological counselling and treatment, and recreation activities need to be respected.
• To adopt and implement laws that curb demand for trafficking and protect child migrants from all forms of exploitation. Adopting cross-border international agreements would prevent trafficking and facilitate the safe return of minors who suffered exploitation. In particular, implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and support establishment of the Review Mechanism of the Convention and its Protocols. Ratify and implement the ILO Forced Labor Protocol. These laws, most of all, should never penalize trafficked children.”
The situation is indeed dire and with the increase in refugees worldwide more children will be exposed to slavery and mistreatment. JRS, along with many other organizations that signed the statement, is trying to be voice for the voiceless and bring greater attention to migrant children who are suffering across the world.