History has shown that the powerful role of prophetic figures and statesmen or women, is to comfort the disturbed or the distressed and to disturb the comfortable. Thus the comfortable world was disturbed and hopefully shocked yesterday, when the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed there were more than 50 million child refugees or migrants and this heinous crime against innocent humanity had increased by as much as 75 percent during the past five years.
On one side we see the past five years as the era of modern digital technology through which the world has developed more than it did during the past 500 years. But on the other hand we see the worst ever degree of selfishness and self-centredness, lack of sensitivity, care and compassion—vices that have thrown 50 million children to languish in varying degrees of despair and destitution.
According to the UNICEF report children now make up more than half of the world’s refugees though they account for less than a third of the global population. Two hotspots or hell-holes – Syria and Afghanistan – have half of all child refugees under protection by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while about three-quarters of the world’s child refugees come from just 10 countries.
New and on-going global conflicts over the past five years have sent the number of child refugees soaring by 75 % to 8 million, putting these children at high risk of human smuggling, trafficking and other forms of abuse.
The UNICEF report -which pulls together the latest global data regarding migration and analyses the effect it has on children – shows that globally some 50 million children have either migrated to another country or been forcibly displaced internally.
Of these, 28 million have been forced to flee by conflict. UNICEF has called upon the international community to take urgent action to protect child migrants; end detention for children seeking refugee status or migrating; keep families together and provide much-needed education and health services for child migrants.
“Though many communities and people around the world have welcomed refugee and migrant children, xenophobia, discrimination, and exclusion pose serious threats to their lives and futures,” UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake said, at a time when the United States Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is threatening to get a wall built on the US—Mexico border and deport about 11 million illegal immigrants, perhaps including hundreds of thousands of children. The UNICEF chief says that if young refugees are accepted and protected today, if they have the chance to learn and grow, and to develop their potential, they can be a source of stability and economic progress.
According to last year’s data today children comprise one-eighth of all international migrants in the world -31 million children out of 244 million total of migrants. The vast majority of child migrants – some 3.7 million children – live in the US, followed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, while in Europe, Britain hosts the largest number of migrants under the age of 18. That is about 750,000.
The UN report says the vast majority of the world’s child migrants live in Asia or Africa. Asia is the birthplace of nearly half or 43% of all the migrants in the world, with nearly 60% of these migrants moving within the region. Most of Asia’s child migrants are hosted in Saudi Arabia, which also receives the highest number of labour migrants – the report’s authors say more research is needed to understand the connection between the two.
Religious leaders have told us that those who cause such serious harm to innocent children should be thrown into the deepest ocean, with millstones tied around their necks. Where then is the world? Is it at the bottom of the ocean?
We join UNICEF in calling on the international community to fulfil the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. This obliges ratifying countries to respect and protect the rights of all children within their territories, regardless of a child’s background or migration status.