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


Home 9 The Rights of the child and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 9 2.2 Children’s rights in the case of unaccompanied and separated children

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

  • Distinguish between the concepts of unaccompanied and separated children
  • Describe how the four guiding principles of the CRC are interpreted in the case of unaccompanied and separated children

Unaccompanied children

are children who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.

Separated children

are children who have been separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives. These may, therefore, include children accompanied by other adult family members.

The state’s obligations under the Convention apply to each child within the state’s territory and to all children subject to its jurisdiction.

Regarding the four guiding principles:

Non-discrimination (art. 2)
  • Any discrimination is prohibited and in particular, on the basis of the status of a child as being unaccompanied or separated, or as being a refugee, asylum-seeker or migrant.
  • This principle does not prevent, but may indeed call for, differentiation on the basis of different protection needs such as those deriving from age and/or gender.
  • Measures should also be taken to address possible misperceptions and stigmatisation of unaccompanied or separated children within the society.
The best interests of the child (art. 3)
  • The assessment process should be carried out in a friendly and safe atmosphere by qualified professionals who are trained in age and gender sensitive related interviewing techniques.
  • Appointment of a competent guardian as expeditiously as possible serves as a key procedural safeguard to ensure respect for the best interests of an unaccompanied or separated child. Such a child should only be referred to asylum or other procedures after the appointment of a guardian. In asylum procedures or other administrative or judicial proceedings, unaccompanied children should also be provided with a legal representative in addition to a guardian.
  • The child’s treatment and all other circumstances relevant to his or her placement ought to be subject a “periodic review” (see also art. 25 UNCRC).
The right to life, survival and development (art. 6)
  • Separated and unaccompanied children are vulnerable to various risks that affect their life, survival and development such as trafficking for purposes of sexual or other exploitation or involvement in criminal activities which could result in harm to the child, or in extreme cases, in death.
  • Practical measures should be taken at all levels to protect children from the risks mentioned above, such as: priority procedures for child victims of trafficking, prompt appointment of guardians, provision of information to children about the risks they may encounter.
The right to be heard (art. 12)
  • To allow for a well-informed expression of views and wishes, it is imperative that such children are provided with all relevant information concerning, for example, their entitlements, the services available including means of communication, the asylum process, the family tracing and the situation in their country of origin. In guardianship, care and accommodation arrangements, and legal representation, children’s views should also be taken into account.
  • Such information must be provided in a manner that is appropriate to the maturity and level of understanding of each child.
  • As participation is dependent on reliable communication, interpreters should be made available at all stages of the procedures.


Committee on the Rights of the Children (2005), General Comment No. 6 (2005), Treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin. Accessed on 07.10.2022 from: https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/GC6.pdf