By Grace O’Connor, ’21

I began my exploration into the best practices for working with refugee and migrant children in the United States in the study of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states the need for special attention and support of children for their “protection and harmonious development” (Convention on the Rights of the Child). Years after the ratification of the UDHR, the United Nations ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a document that explicitly laid out the specific rights granted to children beyond that of a human person. This highly regarded convention –the most broadly used children’s rights document referenced and used across the World— includes political, social, civil, cultural, and economic rights to recognize and protect youths as social and legal actors in the state and to lay out goals and standards for states and legal guardians to care for and support children (1.2 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: from Drafting to Reception). The four “general principles” of the CRC are non-discrimination (Article II); acting in the best interest of the child (Article III); the right to life, survival, and development (Article VI); and the right to be heard –especially in a legal context (Article XII) (1.2bis General Principles). Article 22 of the CRC explicitly calls the state to care for refugee children including protection, humanitarian assistance, and finding a home –whether that means searching for and reunifying family or into a state childcare system (Convention on the Rights of the Child).

Creation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Photo Credit: UN Photo/ Milton Grant

A refugee is a person that is “persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a specific social group or political opinion and outside their country of origin… and is unable or unwilling to return” according to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Article I). The document references special care to the protection of unaccompanied children and includes specifications for children to be included in official refugee legal identification. In fact, 46% of refugees in the world are children (“Child and Youth Protection”). The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) furthers this focus on refugee youth with A Framework for the Protection of Children with stresses on their unique struggles: refugee youth are at greater risk for abuse, neglect, violence, sexual and gender-based violence, military recruitment, and separation from family (“Child and Youth Protection”).  The framework mentioned above strives to implement (1) safety for children to live, learn and play; (2) active participation of children in their life and protection; (3) access of children to child-friendly procedures –to claim refugee status, to be respected in legal settings, etc—; (4) obtain legal documentation in their state of residence; (5) targeted support for children with specific needs such as psychological, legal support; and (6) solutions in individual cases that are in the best interest of the child (A Framework for the Protection of Children). The UNHCR uses this framework to encourage and support states in caring for refugee youth.

I am looking forward to expanding upon my studies into the psychological and neurological concern for refugee children in the next two weeks!

Works Cited

UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, 

UN General Assembly, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, United Nations, 

UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951, United Nations,

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), A Framework for the Protection of Children, 2012,

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Child and Youth Protection.” UNHCR, UNHCR, 2020,

Cantwell, Nigel. 1.2bis General Principles, 2020,

Cantwell, Nigel. 1.2 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: from Drafting to Reception. Coursera, 2020,