Study on Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Published: 5/Jan/2017
Source: International Organisation for Migration (IOM)


Children have always been part of migration flows, even though data on children in migration has been particularly limited. Therefore, despite a number of many years’ worth of study and analysis of the issue of UMC in the world in general, and in Southern Africa in particular, some basic information about the profile, protection needs, challenges and opportunities as a whole remains either unknown, fragmented, and/or limited.

Throughout the region, the exercise of estimating the numbers of irregular migrants is difficult, and remains work in progress at best. When such an exercise is distilled down to UMC it rarely includes disaggregated data and often the methods used are also much debated. Part of the challenge emanates from the very nature of the target population that is hidden and mostly wants to remain as such.

As a result, this Study emanates from a March 2015 call for proposals that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) put up for the procurement of a service provider to conduct a study on the profile of UMC crossing international borders, and “their protection needs as well as current government and other stakeholders’ response and challenges” in a selected number of Southern African countries- namely Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Community Law Centre (CLC) of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) was awarded the contract with an agreement that came into force on the 29th of June 2015. The research team consisted of Prof Benyam Dawit Mezmur (coordinator), Prof Julia Sloth-Nielsen, Dr Aquinaldo Mandlate, Dr Maria Usang Assim, Dr Maralize Ackeerman, and Jill Stein.

This study aimed to collect complementary and predominantly qualitative information on some of the fundamental challenges faced and protection and participation measures necessary to address the human rights of UMCs in the selected four Southern African countries- namely Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Clearly, this is an ambitious undertaking and there is a need for careful modesty about what this study will be able to achieve.

There were three main components to the Study as outlined in the Service Agreement:·

  • A literature review of the state of UMCs in the selected jurisdictions
  • A field work to collect data to substantiate, complement, or dispel some of the information from the literature review through interviews of purposively selected key informants, and filling of questionnaires.
  • A synthesis analysis of the information from the literature review as well as issues and findings from the field work – FINAL REPORT.

While a significant number of literature finds children to be at the periphery of interest of migration researchers, this study aimed to make children and their rights the centre of its activities. This has a number of implications for the research and its outcome.

Firstly, the study hinges on the obligations of States that emanate from international law, in particular, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). These two instruments are ratified by all the four countries in the study. The main principles of these instruments – namely; the best interests of the child, non-discrimination, the right to life survival and development and child participation – will be central to the study. A number of other provisions are also important; children’s protection rights regardless of nationality or immigration status, the right to be free from abuse, neglect and exploitation, family reunification, the right to education, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Secondly, the study does not only seek and take into consideration the views of adult stakeholders, but equally importantly, it solicits the views of children themselves. With this as a backdrop, the methodology involved interviews with UMC in the four countries identified for the study. This process was undertaken with child friendliness and the need to respect children’s privacy and rights, and individual needs in general at its centre.

The geographical scope of the study is limited to the four-countries of the Study- namely Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This has been determined by IOM by taking into account a number of objective criteria. 4The “call for proposals” contained some information that is clearly indicative of the personal scope of the proposed study as it called for a service provider to conduct a study on the profile of UMC crossing international borders, and “their protection needs as well as current government and other stakeholders’ response and challenges”. Hence, the focus is on children that are migrants and unaccompanied, and crossed international borders.

Each section of the country reports outlines the details of the methodology used as well as some of the accompanying limitations in detail. Here, suffice to mention that each country report benefitted from a literature review, as well as field work which included interactions with the relevant authorities as well as UMC. The use of a combination of mostly qualitative, and in a limited manner, quantitative methods, to collect data as well as assessment methods including a literature review, key informant interviews, and structured survey with UMC were used to meet the objectives of the study. A very limited role has also been proposed for the use of case studies to further consolidate the findings of the study. Inevitably participant observations also played a role in informing the ultimate recommendations that will emanate from the study.

While a comparative analysis among the countries of the study was not an objective of the study, the respective country reports underscore common elements such as the legislative and policy framework, both at the domestic and international level. The research findings in general focus on the profile of UMC, documentation, trafficking and smuggling, shelter, food and clothing, health, education, violence, detention, family tracing, reunification and resettlement.

Download from IOM website.


Themes: Acquisition by children
Regions: Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Year: 2017