Watch CBS News

More children than ever displaced and at risk of violence and exploitation, U.N. warns

Harvard dropout helps refugees find homes
Young digital activists help Ukrainian refugees and Turkey quake survivors find homes 02:47

United Nations — War, poverty and climate change have created a perfect storm for children around the world, a United Nations report warned Wednesday. The confluence of crises and disasters has driven the number of children currently displaced from their homes to an unprecedented 42 million, and it has left those young people vulnerable to criminal violence and exploitation.

The report, Protecting the Rights of Children on the Move in Times of Crisis, compiled by seven separate U.N. agencies that deal with children, concludes that of the "staggering" 100 million civilians forcibly displaced around the world by the middle of last year, 41% of those "on the move" were children — more than ever previously documented.

"These children are exposed to heightened risk of violence," warns the U.N.'s Office of Drugs and Crime, one of the contributing agencies. "This includes sexual abuse and exploitation, forced labor, trafficking, child marriage, illegal/illicit adoption, recruitment by criminal and armed groups (including terrorist groups) and deprivation of liberty." 

More than 800,000 people could flee Sudan conflict, UN warns 05:08

"Children on the move are children, first and foremost, and their rights move with them," the lead advocate of the joint report, Dr. Najat Maalla M'jid, the U.N.'s Special Representative on Violence against Children, told CBS News.

The U.N.'s outgoing migration chief, Antonio Vitorino, said many displaced kids "remain invisible to national child protection systems or are caught in bureaucratic nets of lengthy processes of status determination."

The U.N. agencies jointly call in the report for individual nations to invest "in strong rights-based national protection systems that include displaced children, rather than excluding them or creating separate services for them, has proven to be more sustainable and effective in the long-term."

Specifically, the U.N. says all children should be granted "nondiscriminatory access to national services — including civil documentation such as birth registration, social welfare, justice, health, education, and social protection," regardless of their migration status, wherever they are.

"Keeping all children safe from harm and promoting their wellbeing with particular attention to those is crisis situations is — and must be — everybody's business," said actress Penelope Cruz, a UNICEF national ambassador in Spain, commenting on the report. "Children must be protected everywhere and in all circumstances."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.