Engaging migrant communities in the promotion of the rights of the child


Home 9 Child development and wellbeing 9 5.4 The impact of migration on child wellbeing

next module >>


By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Describe the impact of migration on child wellbeing

Migration presents both opportunities and challenges for societies, communities, and individuals.

Literature and experience have shown that children are affected by migration in different ways: children are left behind by migrant parents, they are brought along with their migrating parents, they migrate alone, independently of parents and adult guardians. Migration inevitably alters the structure of families and their dynamics.

Children who migrate along with their parents face different opportunities and challenges. While migration can open new opportunities for children, it can also expose them to risks, harmful care situations, chronic poverty, violence, and exploitation. During transit and in the hosting country, migrant children may end up in unsafe institutions, detention centers, on the streets or in overcrowded, poor-quality accommodation.

Marginalisation, exclusion, and discrimination in the country of settlement, barriers to accessing social, education and health services, challenges to the rights to citizenship and identity, parents’ economic insecurity, and social and cultural dislocation may affect children’s psychosocial wellbeing. None of the above mentioned are necessary outcomes, and most of migrant children flourish and contribute positively to their new communities through inclusive programs. However, several areas remain critical for children to access, including health, good-quality education, economic security, housing, and work opportunities. These barriers impact their development and wellbeing, both directly and indirectly.

According to a report (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2019), the main challenges concerning the fundamental rights of children in migration are:

  • Reaching and entering the EU: children risk death or injury when they try to enter the EU to seek international protection or a better life. In 2019, over 780 children were stranded on board of rescue vessels often for more than a week in bad weather and under poor health conditions. In addition, pushbacks, as well as the use of violence against migrant children, persisted, or even increased during the past years.
  • Arrival and stay in the EU: reception capacity for all asylum applicants, particularly for unaccompanied children who have special protection needs, is insufficient in Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain. Hygiene and sanitation conditions for children are deplorable and poor in the hotspots operated in Greece and in the reception centres in Croatia, Cyprus, France, Hungary, Italy, Malta, and Spain. Facilities are often not age appropriate and migrant children are not effectively protected from sexual and labour exploitation. Moreover, children sometimes face long asylum procedures. This can either be due to lengthy age-assessment procedures or because it takes a long time to appoint the legal guardian who submits the application on behalf of the child.
  • Detention and return: migrant children who have been detained, mainly to ensure their return, live in poor and deteriorating conditions.

Studies have shown that certain characteristics and conditions of migration during childhood were associated with wellbeing outcomes among young adults (Eremenco, Bennett, 2018).  Some researchers found that family migration characteristics during childhood are associated with psychosocial wellbeing in young adulthood, but not with self-rated health. In terms of psychosocial wellbeing, young adults who were separated for longer periods from parents during the migration process in childhood often experience poorer outcomes, measured as mental wellbeing and conflict with parents.

Separation from parents, especially for a long period, can disrupt the parent-child relationship. It may later be difficult to recover it, even if they are reunited. Studies of attachment security among the general (not specifically migrant) population have shown that experience of adverse life events related to attachment in childhood (which separation from parents through migration could conceivably be) can increase the chance of having poorer psychosocial wellbeing in early adulthood.

The experience of migration may increase uncertainty around the transition to adulthood for these young adults, especially for those with fewer social, economic, and legal resources (Eremenco, Bennett, 2019). This may make them particularly susceptible to potential adverse effects in their relationship with parents, relatives and peers and they may experience poor mental health and psychosocial wellbeing in the short, medium, and even long term.


Eremenco, Tatiana, Bennett, Rachel (2018), Linking the family context of migration during childhood to the wellbeing of young adults. Evidence from the UK and France. 24 (7) Population, Space and Place


Eremenco, Tatiana, Bennett, Rachel (2019), How does family migration affect children’s wellbeing as they grow up? Understanding Society. The UK household longitudinal study. Accessed on 08.02.2022 from: https://www.understandingsociety.ac.uk/blog/2019/11/27/how-does-family-migration-affect-children%E2%80%99s-wellbeing-as-they-grow-up


European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2019), Children in Migration. Accessed on 07.02.2022 from: https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/fra-2020-children-in-migration_en.pdf