Advocates: Protect child asylum seekers from abuse, human trafficking

Two Syrian boys outside a temporary refugee home in Lebanon (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/DFID - UK Department for International Development). (Two Syrian boys outside a temporary refugee home in Lebanon (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/DFID - UK Department for International Development))

Children's ombudsmen from 33 different countries sent a letter to the European Union on Monday sounding the alarm about the safety of child asylum seekers. Led by Dutch children's ombudsman Marc Dullaert, they ask the EU and Council of Europe institutions to "act now to protect this highly vulnerable group of children".

In 2013 the European Network of Ombudspersons for children (ENOC) warned that that child asylum seekers experience violence, trafficking, truama, poor health and death. "Since then the situation for these children has worsened",  the ombudsmen write.

ENOC therefore established a taskforce to monitor the situation of these so-called "children on the move" in Europe and to make sure their rights are being fulfilled. "Our study shows that Europe violates the fundamental principles of children's rights and is failing to protect children traveling through Europe.", the ombudsmen write. According to them, these kids are at risk of trafficking, exploitation, statelessness, sickness and separation from their parents. While traveling through Europe they often face malnutrition, physical and mental suffering, health and welfare problems, lack of information and insecurity.

"Once they arrived in the country of destination, access to a safe living environment, education and psychological counselling is not assured. Children stay in an unstable environment for too long, preventing them from tarting the recovery from what they have endured. Such delays in the development within a child's lifespan are unacceptable."

The ombudsmen accuses the EU of not having the needs of a child central in their response to the asylum seekers. "In practice, in the European response to the increased influx of refugees, children are merely a footnote", they write. "Children accompanied by their parents seem practically invisible in EU actions."

The ENOC suggests the following measures. Children should be given priority in the implementation of the redistribution plan. Unattended children and children traveling with their families must be moved first. The ombudsmen also want to increase the minimum requirements for reception centers. According to them, centers must be heated and supplied with hot water, blankets, clothing and practical and medical assistance by trained workers. "Child friendly spaces should be guaranteed as well as child safeguarding protocols.

The ombudsmen also want European leaders to make better use of legal opportunities to enter Europe. They advise the leaders to increase the chances of family reunification, to increase the quota of people who are redistributed and to improve the issuing of humanitarian visas. They also advise financial support for children's education and better protection of children.