Children and Adolescents
More than half of the world’s refugee populations are children (below the age of 18) and many will spend their entire childhoods in countries of asylum. Displaced children face heightened risks for abuse, violence, exploitation, and separation from their caregivers. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) addresses the unique needs of displaced and stateless children through global humanitarian assistance programs and through humanitarian diplomacy to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Child Protection and Assistance
Child protection in humanitarian emergencies is the prevention of and response to abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence against children. In times of crisis, patterns of violence are heightened and protective social structures are weakened. In displacement situations, children can become separated from their caregivers and experience traumas that result in psychosocial disorders, particularly for those exposed to conflict. Additionally, children are at greater risk for recruitment into armed groups and some resort to child labor to support themselves or their families.
Despite these significant risks, PRM recognizes that children are also highly resilient. PRM strives to empower children by creating safe and protective environments, ensuring access to essential services, working with caregivers, supporting national systems, and increasing children’s participation in issues affecting their lives. PRM works closely across the U.S. government as well as with international organizations (IO) and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to lead and participate in initiatives focused on child protection. Each year, PRM supports a range of IOs including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) to integrate child protection and assistance programming into our humanitarian response. Additionally, PRM addresses gaps through NGO programs to enhance access to critical services, such as case management, psychosocial support, short and long term care arrangements, and legal support for documentation, including birth registration. PRM programs strive to ensure children thrive in protective environments by supporting caregivers, strengthening child-friendly spaces, and supporting community and national systems to address children’s needs in the long term.
In 2017, PRM also provided funding to the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action and UNHCR to build capacity for the international response for child protection; improve global resources, such as the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action and the UNHCR Best Interest Determination guidelines; as well as support evidence based programming through enhanced learning, assessment, and evaluation.
Education in emergencies can provide life-saving safe spaces, access to information and other services, a foundation for lifelong learning, and hope for the future. Education often is one of the highest priorities cited by displaced communities. Access to education is a human right and is proven to contribute to poverty reduction, peace and stability, economic growth, and better health and wellbeing for children, families, and communities. Evidence shows that investing in education can lead to significant improvements in quality of life, including prevention of or reductions in early marriage, child labor, and exploitation. Education provides displaced children and adolescents with a sense of normalcy and stability, while developing essential skills for self-reliance, improving their job prospects and boosting their sense of self. Yet conflict and displacement often present significant barriers and challenges for children’s access to education. Failing to provide education to refugee and displaced children and adolescents has not only detrimental effects on children and their families, but can also perpetuate cycles of conflict and displacement.
Education is a key component to PRM’s mission to provide protection and durable solutions for refugees. PRM supports global initiatives to support the provision of quality education and life-long learning for all vulnerable children, including the Sustainable Development Goals and UNHCR’s Education Strategy. In 2016, PRM funded the University of Columbia’s Teachers College to conduct research on the provision of education specifically for urban refugees. The Teachers College created accompanying Guidelines and Practical Strategies for Strengthening Support to Government Authorities, School Leaders, Teachers and Community Members in their Efforts to Improve Educational Quality for All. PRM and USAID jointly pledged $20 million at the launch of Education Cannot Wait – a fund for education in emergencies – at the May 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and PRM continues to engage with USAID in advancing coherence in humanitarian and development assistance. In addition to these global efforts, each year PRM supports IO partners, such as UNHCR, UNICEF, and UNRWA, to provide quality and protective education for vulnerable children. PRM also supports a range of NGO programs to improve education by investing in teachers, ensuring schools are inclusive and safe, conducting outreach to increase access for girls, and providing alternative programs such as accelerated learning, catch up or bridge support, and vocational training.
Displaced youth, ages 15-24, face the aforementioned protection risks but do so at a critical time in human development – the transition from adolescence to adulthood – which brings additional challenges and the need for specialized approaches to ensure these young people are not left behind. Youth often fall between the gap in programing for children and adults, leaving many unable to prepare for their life ahead and prompting some to risk dangerous onward movements in search of better opportunities. Despite these challenges, young people have tremendous potential to support their peers, families, and communities. PRM works to empowers displaced youth to become active members of their societies and advocates for issues affecting their lives. PRM programs provide a variety of interventions to increase opportunities for youth including education, accelerated learning, vocational and life skills training, and community peacebuilding. PRM has also been a strong supporter of the Global Youth Consultations lead by the Women’s Refugee Commission and UNHCR which brought together young people to analyze causes and impacts of the difficulties they face and resulted in the Seven Core Actions for Refugee Youth.