The European Union, UNICEF and UNHCR join efforts to protect children on the move in Central America, Mexico and Southern Africa

A child draws at a UNHCR-supported shelter in Mexico City for unaccompanied minors from northern Central America, November 2019.

A child draws at a UNHCR-supported shelter in Mexico City for unaccompanied minors from northern Central America, November 2019.  © UNHCR/Hector Perez

BRUSSELS/JOHANNESBURG/NAIROBI – The European Union (EU), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency have announced today the 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 a total budget of €7.5 million, has received €7 million from the EU and is being implemented across four countries in two regions: El Salvador and Mexico in Latin America; South Africa and Zambia in Southern Africa. Over the course of the 30-month programme, UNICEF and UNHCR will jointly work with national governments; local authorities with portfolios of child protection and social welfare, home affairs and justice; civil society organisations and other stakeholders around three key goals for children.

Firstly, the programme will ensure that the capacity of child protection systems to include gender responsive services and alternative care options to immigration detention is enhanced. Secondly, that 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 is increased. And, thirdly, that lessons learned and best practices on programming for children on the move are documented and shared to contribute to strengthened south-south and global cooperation.

Welcoming the launch of the programme, Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, said:

“Children should always be treated first and foremost as children, regardless of their migration status. They have the right to be protected and to live in a safe environment. This includes having access to education, healthcare and sanitation, social and legal services, and psychological support. In partnership with UNICEF and UNHCR, the European Union is reaching out especially to children affected by immigration detention.”

Mohamed M. Malick Fall, Regional Director for UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa, said:

“In an era where COVID-19 has jeopardized access to services, these children are now even more vulnerable. Our joint programme will address the impact that immigration detention has on children’s mental and wellbeing; and critically, the increased risks of child rights violations,” he said.

“This project is a crucial opportunity for all actors involved in the protection of children on the move to work better together. These boys and girls face specific risks requiring tailored, gender specific, and child sensitive responses. Children should not be detained,” said Grainne O’Hara, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection.

“Having fled from violence and persecution, children too often face further abuse, neglect and exploitation on their journey or at their destination. With this programme, we hope that safe alternative care arrangements will be strengthened and that children at risk are quickly identified and receive the attention they urgently need,” she said

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs dataset on migration show that in 2019 the number of international migrants in Eastern and Southern Africa and Central America stood at 12.3 million and 1.9 million respectively. The EU Global Promotion of Best Practices for Children in Migration programme will ensure that children in the four countries, particularly those impacted by immigration detention, are supported with child protection focused services.

About the European Union

The European Union (EU) invests significant resources to deliver life-changing programmes for children in many countries, and has adopted policies and frameworks to promote their rights.

The European Commission is the executive body of the EU. Its department for International Partnerships works with partner countries to reduce poverty, ensure sustainable development, and promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. For more information, visit


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most

vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. We deliver life-saving assistance such as shelter, food and water, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. We also work to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality. For more information about UNHCR, visit

For more information, please contact: 

European Union:

  • Gesine Knolle | Press Officer for International Partnerships | European Commission | +32 2 295 43 23 | [email protected]


  • James Elder | UNICEF Regional Chief of Communication| Eastern & Southern Africa | +254 71558 1222 | [email protected]