Protecting Young People in Migration

This report has attempted to reconstruct in their own words critical passages in the lives of 10 young people. Their testimonies cover a wide range of the challenges and opportunities facing millions of young women and men affected by international migration. Although their stories are very diverse, they all point to the desire of every human being to live a better life.

As young people make their transition to adulthood, they hope for a good education and a decent job. They expect personal security under the rule of law. Every year, millions of young people leave their own countries in search of these conditions.

Some young people will leave out of a sense of adventure, or to escape personal tragedy, or simply because travel is easier than it ever has been. But most of the people whose stories we tell would have preferred to stay at home. Ensuring that migration is voluntary, establishing safe and secure conditions for migration and respecting both human rights and national borders are challenges for all countries.

ADAMA might not have left his country if sufficient jobs were available for the millions of young people like him who enter the labour market each year in developing countries. No one should have to leave their own country because of lack of job opportunities at home.

KAKENYA would not have left, if her community had valued girls’ education and if her country’s education system had offered her the opportunities she needed. As this report goes to print, Kakenya has been awarded a grant to start building a school for girls and a maternity hospital in her own village. Her dream has begun to come true.

BIBI would not be thinking about packing up and leaving if her country had been able to offer health workers like her decent wages and better working conditions.

EDNA would have benefited from HIV information and services targeted at high-risk groups such as male migrant workers and their relatives. High-risk groups also include young women living in poverty, whether married or not; sex workers and young women at risk of transactional sex. These vulnerable young women need to be able to protect themselves from HIV infection.

NATALIA and others like her will benefit from government interventions that combat gender-based violence; recognize trafficking as an abuse of human rights; protect trafficked persons; provide assistance to returned victims through rehabilitation programmes, and protect them from being trafficked again. Governments should take action against those responsible for trafficking and join with other countries to prevent it.

KHADIJA will benefit from policies and programmes, for migrant families and citizens of receiving countries alike that promote integration and acceptance. Full acceptance is required for social harmony and cohesion and to maximize migrants’ contribution to their new societies. Effective political leadership and objective media coverage promote a positive perception of migrants.

NORAIDA and millions of other overseas domestic workers will benefit from government regulation of employment agencies, for example through a standard employment contract including wages, hours of work, weekly rest days and other terms of employment, according to international labour standards. Sending countries should also assist victims of abuse by providing services at embassies and diplomatic missions, with access to legal aid, health care, trauma counselling and shelter.

RICHARD would have benefited from prompt action by the international community to prevent the conflicts in which he was swept up, or at least to mitigate their impact on civilians. International instruments provide for the rights and needs of war-affected adolescents. The Convention of the Rights of the Child, for example, states that adolescents should be spared from the brutal consequences of war and when war is not avoided, should receive the care and protection that they need. But these instruments are only as effective as the political will to back them up. Countries should give more attention to the provision of appropriate educational opportunities and reproductive health services for young people displaced by armed conflict and its aftermath. Countries should develop gender- and culture-specific programmes with the full involvement of young people themselves. Every effort should be made to reunite refugee and displaced young people with their families

RAJINI although she has to live apart from Unnikrishnan, will continue to receive remittances that have empowered her and many “Gulf wives” like her to manage their households and invest in the education and health of their children. Many would benefit from programmes that show how to manage remittances and invest savings wisely. Remittances are important for countries as well as individuals, and Governments should consider lowering fees to facilitate transfers.

FALCAO embraces the desire of so many children and adolescents around the world to reach a better future through their talent for sport. But talented young people also need protection, for example from exploitation by unscrupulous agents and managers. National governments and international bodies governing sports and entertainment should take action to protect the rights and well-being of their young workers. In the meantime, young men like Falcao will continue to inspire the dreams of millions of children and youth of becoming football stars and at having a shot at a better future.

Young women and men who move are changing the ethnic composition of communities across the world. They are the single most visible element of the “human face of globalisation”. Migration is likely to continue as long as there is demand for labour from countries of destination, and unstable economic and social conditions in countries of origin.

International migration is ingrained in human history. Entire nations have been built on the basis of opening their doors to the world. Many of today’s better-off countries have seen their own citizens leave at times of economic or political difficulty in the past. In spite of long accumulated experience, management of international migration remains a challenge for all societies.

Migration offers great opportunities to receiving and sending countries alike, if managed with policies and programmes that protect the human rights of migrants, discourage discrimination and xenophobia, and promote the integration of migrants into host societies.

As more children and young people migrate alone rather than with their families, countries need better data and analysis to guide responses and policies, and help them adapt to changing conditions.

These and other issues will be discussed at the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in September, 2006. The meeting is an opportunity to give young people the attention they deserve as a major share of the world’s migrants.