18 December 2012, New York, USA – On behalf of this year’s international migrants day, the UNITAR New York Office,in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Populations Fund, with financial support of the Mac Arthur Foundation, organized two panel discussions treating the challenges of migration for two of the most vulnerable groups: adolescents and women. Opened jointly by Ms.Yvonne Lodico, Head of the UNITAR New York Office, Ms. Amy Muedin, Programme Specialist at the Office of the Permanent Observer of the IOM to the UN, and Ms. Ann Pawliczko, Senior Project Adviser at UNFPA, the panels featured experts and experienced practitioners from the academic and the NGO sector. With these two panels the Workshop Series on Migration and Development, carried out by UNITAR NYO, IOM and UNFPA during the last six years came to an end.
The morning panel titled “Migration and Sustainable Development – Youth and Adolescents on the Move” not only discussed the special needs of children and adolescents affected by migration, but also tackled the gaps in legislation making it difficult to ensure migrant children’s rights. Mr. Emeka Obiezu O.S.A., Director of Augustinians Internationalat the United Nations, pointed out the invisibility of adolescent and children migrants in national legislation. While there are still over 3 million migrants between 14 and 19 years old, national migration law in most countries does not take into account children under the age of 18 and immigration courts do not have special procedures for children. Therefore, to close this protection gap, it must be ensured that countries integrate the provisions from international conventions and treaties on the protection of children in national migration law. One step into this direction is currently undertaken by Terre des Hommes. The organization has recently launched a campaign titled “Destination Unknown – Protecting Children on the Move”, which Dr. Eva Sandis, Chair of the UN NGO Committee on Migration, presented during the panel discussion. One core message of the campaign is the call to focus on the variety of scenarios by which migration affects children and adolescents: Not only children migrating with their parents often suffer from a lack of support and protection, but also the children left behind when one parent or both have to emigrate in order to earn the family’s living.
In the afternoon, Dr. Jeronimo Cortina, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston, Ms. Elizabeth Gibbons from the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard Universityand Sr. Mary Jo Toll, the Representative to the UN for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, shed light on the effects of migration on education and on the empowerment of women. Even though the percentage of women migrants, currently being a 49% of total migrants, has remained steady over the last decades, patterns of female migration have changed. More and more women migrate independently, and not just, as it used to be the case, accompanying their husbands. As a consequence, women today play an important role in immigrant communities as promoters and multipliers of education and health care for women and engaging in social and cultural activities. Thus, education and empowerment of young migrant women is crucial for creating healthy and well integrated immigrant communities, Sr. Mary Jo Toll pointed out. Especially women’s engagement in organizing educational activities for first or second generation migrant children is important in face of the fact that children who do not speak the school instruction language at home often face severe learning difficulties and generally show a poorer performance at school that those who speak the instruction language at home, as Mr. Cortina explained. According to a recent study, left behind children and adolescents show a lower performance in school and due to emotional problems, the absence of parental support and, this applies especially to girls, the need to engage in household activities. Ms. Gibbons further stressed the importance of providing empowerment and education not only to migrant women and children, but also to those left behind when men emigrate.