Remarks by UN Resident Coordinator Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio at Online Launch of EU/UNICEF/UNHCR initiative for protection of child migrants. 25 March 2021

• Minister of Home Affairs, Honourable Stephen Kampyongo
• European Union Ambassador, H.E. Jacek Jankowski

  • Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Community Development and Social Services,Ms. Pamela Chibonga Kabamba
  • Director General of Immigration, Dr Denny Lungu
  • Director Social Welfare, Mr. Kennedy Mumba
  • The Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Abdon Mawere
  • Senior UN and Government Officials
  • Members of the press

Honourable Minister, I want to start by telling you a story about a young boy we will call Tebis. He is an Ethiopian boy and he is 13 years old. His family are in a desperate situation because of conflict. But they have relatives in South Africa who promise that if Tebis can get there, they can find him work and also send him to school. So, he leaves Ethiopia in a group of 47 migrants made up of children and adults. They travel through Sudan and several more countries and finally arrive in Zambia where they go to the nearest town to find food, water and a truck ride towards South Africa. However, there have been reports of migrants coming through this town and so the local police are checking trucks and the identity cards of unknown people. The migrants are arrested.

Tebis’ story is imaginary, but it resembles many that we have heard. Due to desperate circumstances and a lack of opportunities in their own countries, children find themselves migrating to far flung places for work or to be with family who can support them. On the way, they face many dangerous situations. As the region experiences unprecedented economic and health challenges related to conflict, climate change and COVID-19, such stories are likely to increase. 

Zambia is a country of origin, transit and destination for migrants, mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa.  Child migrants can include victims of trafficking for child labour, unaccompanied and separated children, and displaced children fleeing violence or conflict. Once identified, migrant children may be held in detention, sometimes for prolonged periods of time, with high exposure to violence and ill-health.

Honourable Minister, the United Nations recognises the good work being done by the Government of Zambia on the issue of child migrants. The notable achievements towards the protection of vulnerable child migrants include the development of the National Referral Mechanism for vulnerable migrants, enactment of the 2017 Refugees Act and the Best Interest Determination Guidelines used by local panels to make decisions on the best interests of migrant children.

As part of this progressive work, it gives me great pleasure today to be part of this launch of the new EU Global Promotion of Best Practices for Children in Migration programme to strengthen child protection systems and provide alternatives to immigration detention.

This multi-country programme, with generous funding from the European Union, is being implemented across four countries: El Salvador and Mexico in Central America; and South Africa and Zambia in Southern Africa. Over the course of the 30-month programme in Zambia, UNICEF and UNHCR will work jointly with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services and the Ministry of Home Affairs, as well as other UN agencies, Civil Society Organisations and other stakeholders.

The programme has three main goals. Firstly, it will ensure that the capacity of child protection systems is enhanced to include gender responsive services and alternative care alternatives to immigration detention.

Secondly, it aims to increase the capacity of frontline actors to detect children on the move suffering from, or at risk of, Gender-Based Violence and to refer them to appropriate alternative family and community care. And, thirdly, it will document lessons learned and best practices on programming for children on the move to contribute to strengthened South to South and global cooperation.

Child migrants are vulnerable. Through coordinated work between Social Welfare, Immigration, the Police, in collaboration with IOM and Save the Children, UNICEF and UNHCR believe that the system can better support these children. Practically this will involve seeking to end immigration detention for children, and support family-based care for child migrants and ensure that children like Tebis are protected until they can be repatriated back home. Let me thank the European Union again for their support to ensure that child migrants are protected and determinations are made in their best interest as children.

As I close, let me congratulate the Government of the Republic of Zambia, through the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs on the launch of this important programme to better protect some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Thank you.

Speech by
Coumba Mar Gadio
Resident Coordinator
Coumba Mar Gadio, PhD
UN entities involved in this initiative
International Organization for Migration
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund
Other entities involved in this initiative
European Commission
Save the Children