East Africa: Our support for children along migration routes

International and cross-border migration movements present serious risks for child safety and security with many children exposed to important protection issues when crossing borders and during their journeys. The East Africa region in particular presents significant protection challenges for children on the move.

Children on the move in East Africa come mainly from Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. Available figures show a rise in the numbers of child migrants and children travelling alone from, and within, the region.

Along the East Africa migration route up to Egypt or Libya (and potentially toward Europe), we are starting to implement a ten-year regional project in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The overall goal is twofold: enable migrant children to have immediate access to shelter, protection and health services, while countries along the East African Migration Routes develop policies and local capacities to ensure protection and enable self-reliance of children and youth in vulnerable displacement situations.

The project aims at targeting vulnerable children and youth on the move. Specific attention will be given to the most vulnerable, those at risk of abuse and exploitation: girls and young women, unaccompanied and separated children, minors living or working in the street, children and youth exposed to trafficking, along with younger children and babies traveling with families.

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Goal 1 Children and youth in vulnerable situations have their rights respected and possess sound self-reliance capacities that allow them to improve their life perspectives.

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Goal 2 National and community organizations provide effective protection and life self-reliance support services for children and youth.

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Goal 3 Countries along East African migration routes have child-protection policies and adequate organizational capacities to ensure self-reliance of children and youth in vulnerable displacement situations.

272 Mio.

The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in migration and rapid changes to the political landscape of global mobility. The number of individuals globally who live outside of their country of birth had reached 272 million in 2019.

Rayan (2) from Somalia.

Difficulties for migrant children and youth

Individuals and families migrate for a variety of reasons. Some choose to leave to seek education and employment opportunities or to escape poverty, while many are forced to leave their homes, fleeing natural disasters or climate change, conflicts and violence, discrimination or persecution.

Whatever the reason for their journey, migrating children – especially those traveling alone – find themselves extremely vulnerable to a variety of risks, including physical and sexual violence, exploitation and abuse. They often lack the means to protect themselves, meet their basic needs and maintain their dignity.

A range of social, physical, organisational and legal barriers also prevent many children and youth on the move from accessing the assistance they need. In many East Africa countries, child protection legislation fails to consider the specific vulnerabilities of, and provide adequate protection to, children on the move.

It should be understood that migrant children – like any children in the world – are protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is also applicable to non-nationals too.


Buses at a bus station in Addis Ababa. Thousands of children are on the road in Ethiopia today, many without their parents.

Route-based approach

To ensure the broad protection of migrant children in East Africa, while they move from a country to another, we have designed a unique approach which is to be implemented at both country and cross-border levels. Developing an innovative route-based project allows flexibility and responsiveness in addressing protection needs of children on the move at the main passing points along the route, in countries of transit and destination.

Within the project for example, Community Service Centres will serve as static safe spaces in Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan where refugee, returnee and migrant boys and girls can access relevant information, protection services and immediate assistance – including support with registration in the country, legal assistance and referral to shelter and health professionals.

In addition, we aim to develop a cross regional network of linked-up services and care for children and youth along commonly used routes and locations, linking specifically the major urban hubs – Addis Ababa, Khartoum and Greater Cairo – as well as strategic points along migratory routes, where vulnerabilities of children and youth on the move can be extremely high.

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