In search of opportunities


In search of opportunities

opp 1

© UNICEF/UN05325/Dragaj

The vast majority of child migrants uprooted by violence, poverty and climate change remain in Africa.

Children account for over half of the 12 million West and Central African people on the move each year, with some 75% of them remaining in sub-Saharan Africa, and less than one in five heading to Europe. Migration involving children and young people is likely to increase due to rapid population growth and urbanization, climate change, inequitable economic development and persistent conflict.

On 3 March, men on camels and donkeys travel through a dust storm in the desert near the western city of Mao, Kanem Region. From 28 February to 6 March 2010, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow visited Chad to raise awareness of the importance of immunizing children against polio. Her visit coincided with the 6 March launch of a national immunization campaign aimed at 2.2 million children under five. It is one of 16 synchronized polio vaccination campaigns that were being launched throughout West Africa on that date. Polio cases in Chad are of particular concern because the country has been a major conduit for the disease’s spread to other countries. Between 2004 and 2006, an outbreak spread from Chad to Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Indonesia. This strain of polio virus originated from Nigeria, one of four countries in the world where the disease is still endemic. A 2007 outbreak, also originating in Nigeria, continues to infect Chadian children, in large part because of poor immunization coverage. Most cases in Chad have occurred in N’Djamena, the capital, where more than half of all children are routinely missed in vaccination campaigns. Ms. Farrow met with government officials, representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, and local leaders, and visited polio vaccination teams to support the campaign. She also visited a displacement camp in the eastern town of Goz Beïda and a therapeutic feeding centre in the western city of Mao, and attended the campaign’s launch ceremony in N’Djamena. The synchronized campaigns are supported by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. The initiative is also supported by diverse governments, the European Commission, NGOs and other partners.

© UNICEF/UNI82205/Holt

Sub-Saharan Africa will be hit hardest by climate change, with scientists predicting a 3–4 degree rise in temperature, higher than global forecasts. Longer droughts and intense storms will make farming and herding more difficult and people will be forced to seek a better life. A dust storm in Chad in 2010.

On 27 October 2016 in Lagos, Nigeria, street vendors sell their wares at Oshodi market as commuters make their way home, creating heavy traffic and fumes. Both vendors and commuters complain of headaches and trouble breathing as they inhale the toxic fumes from car exhaust as they are stuck in traffic or on the streets. Almost one in seven of the world’s children, 300 million, live in areas with toxic levels of outdoor air pollution - six times higher than international guidelines according to a report from UNICEF, Clear the Air for Children, released ahead of COP 22. UNICEF’s findings, the first of its kind and based on satellite imagery, also show that around 2 billion children in total live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds limits set by the World Health Organization as being safe for human health. This air pollution is caused by factors such as vehicle and factory emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste. Indoor pollution is commonly caused by use of fuels like coal and wood for cooking and heating. Taken together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are one of the leading dangers facing children -- they are a contributing factor in the deaths of almost 600,000 children under five every year. This figure represents nearly 1 in 10 under-five deaths. Air pollution is also linked with poor health and diseases among millions more children that can severely affect their overall wellbeing and development. It causes difficulty breathing; studies show it is linked with, and can exacerbate asthma, bronchitis, and the inflammation of airways, as well as other underlying health issues. Children who breathe polluted air are at higher risk of potentially severe health problems-- in particular, acute respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of both indoor and outdoor air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracks are more

© UNICEF/UN037727/Bindra

Urbanization is a driver of migration in West and Central Africa. Better paying jobs — not dependent on crops or rainfall — entice many to leave their homes and seek success in the cities. The exposure to new ideas and cultures can drive a secondary wave towards Europe. Congestion in Nigeria in 2016.

Children gather for a reading club at a primary school in Koro, near Touba, Côte d'Ivoire, Friday 19 February 2016. After years of conflict Côte d’Ivoire is now repositioning itself in Africa with the aim of becoming an emerging economy by 2020. With economic growth estimated at 9 percent, investors are streaming in. Yet nearly 50 percent of the population still lives in poverty. Maternal and child mortality, education, health care and protection of women and children remain key challenges. Significant progress has been made in Côte d'Ivoire since education became compulsory for children aged 6 to 16 in 2015 - the enrolment rate rose from 79% in 2015 to 88% in 2016. However, the number of children out of school remains high, especially in the northern and the western regions of the country. UNICEF is supporting the development of the Education Sector Plan (2016–2026) and also helping the Ministry of Education and partners to identify and address the reasons why children are not in school. One of the challenges Côte d'Ivoire still has to address is gender disparity. When faced with the choice, parents routinely choose to send boys to school before girls, a gap which widens significantly at secondary school level. Girls are also more likely to drop out of school because of early pregnancy and marriage, to care for younger siblings or to undertake other household chores.

© UNICEF/UN016963/Dejongh

Population growth is set to double in the region by 2050, depleting the environmental resources and straining limited infrastructure in education and health care, and causing increased competition for already limited resources. A school reading club in the Ivory Coast in 2016.


© UNICEF Cameroon/2017/Catton

Elizabeth, 13, fled conflict in the Central African Republic two years ago. Separated from her family on the journey, she found refuge with a host family, but at a price — she was promised in marriage to a man she doesn’t know.

“I know that education is the only way for me to achieve my dreams,” she said.



[NAME CHANGED] Anne Marie, 12, in the single room she shares with her mother and sister after they fled to Senegal. Her family lost everything when their house was burned down in conflict in the Central African Republic in 2011. Stuck without papers for years, it’s a struggle to provide both education and enough to eat.

Chris is a nine year old boy who likes to run around in the neighborhoud with his friends. He has had a hard life, his mother is very poor and they live under a plastic tarpoline in a swamp that gets flooded as soon as it rains. Chris normally stays outside late after school. 'I do not like to come home because then I am not allowed to see my friends anymore. And my mother hits me when I do something wrong.' Sandrine Aka Assouan, 40 yars old is the mother of Chris, nine years old. They live together in San Pedro, in the South West of C™te d'Ivoire. Chris is verbally and physically abused by his mother. Sadly, his story is the story of so many others. Sandrine is very poor which stresses her out day and night. Some days she doesn't know if she will be able to feed her son. Her patience is very thin and it is not rare that she hits her son when she is exasperated and he dosen't seem to listen to her. 'I come to a point I don't know how the handle to situation or him, for that matter.' One day social services came with the police and Sandrine was told that she had to stop mistreating her son otherwise he would be brought to a center to protect him. Despite everything, Sandrine says she loves her son very much and didn't want him to be abandoned in a system. Since then, Chris and Sandrine have be able to breath a bit better since then. Sandrine receives some financial support which helps her to cope better and social servics follow Chris closely. In C™te d'Ivoire, 86% of children are disciplined physically and 20% are hit so violently that it leaves permanent marks.

© UNICEF/UN063974/Dejongh

Vulnerable children like Chris, 9, remind us of how hard it can be to move countries. Many migrants are marginalised without access to services like healthcare and education. He and his mother live under a tarp in the Ivory Coast that floods when it rains and fills with mosquitos when it doesn’t.

Mahazouna, 6 years old, daughter of Rahoua Bounya, 30 years old in the village of Kadazaki, Matameye department, Niger on August 14, 2016. Rahoua's husband left her more than 5 years ago to find work in Libya. She has 6 children and 4 still live with her, three boys and a girl. The two older daughters, 15 and 13 years old are already married.“The older girls were not good at school and the teacher was beating them so they dropped out. The brother of my husband decided to marry them because they could not just stay here and do nothing. Now I have less children to feed, it’s better for us”. Rahoua cultivates her husband’s lands and with the harvest, they can eat for 3 to 4 months. But it isn’t enough. “My boys are growing fast and I need money for the future lands they will need to survive on. I heard about women who had been to Algeria to beg who had become rich. I was envious. So I left in July”. I was lucky because I reached Algeria in 4 days. I used all my savings and had to borrow 50,000 franc to reach Tamanrasset.” Rahoua left with her two youngest children and left the others to the surveillance of their uncle. “The desert was scary, I know a lot of people die out there. When I arrived two people from the village were waiting for us and they took us to a house were we stayed. In the morning, we would leave and go begging." Rahoua did not make any money but other women were. "We then went to Gardenia but more than 1000 of us were picked up by the police. They took us back to Arlit. They treated us well. After a night in Arlit we were sent back to Agadez, spent two days at the transit center there and back to Matameye.“I will not go back. I have seen the desert and know that I won’t always be that lucky. The sand wind can kill. If asked, I will talk about the risks and problem you can face so people know what they’re about to do”.

© UNICEF/UN029232/Phelps

Six year old Mahazouna’s father left her village in Niger more than 5 years ago to find work in Libya. Mahazouna’s mother made a dangerous desert crossing to try make money in Algeria, but was sent back to Niger. Financial pressure has led to Mahazouna’s older sisters leaving school to marry early.


© UNICEF Gabon/Dicko/2016

Helene, 14, holds a sign saying “I am a child, and not a commodity.” Her family in Benin were eager to help her find a better future and fell prey to the lies told by traffickers.

“I never went to school in Gabon,” said Helene. “I was beaten and sick and I never got medical help or enough food to eat.”

Nigerian refugee Hafsa Oumar, 16, stands outside a classroom at the Dar Naim school, in Daresalam refugee camp, Lake Region, Chad, Thursday 20 April 2017. Before coming to Chad, Hafsa never had a chance to attend school. Hafsa enrolled in school for the first time when she arrived in Chad in 2015. However, she stopped attending school following her marriage in February 2017. More than 25 million children between 6 and 15 years old, or 22 per cent of children in that age group, are missing out on school in conflict zones across 22 countries. In response to the education crisis in Chad, UNICEF has since the start of 2017 provided school supplies to more than 58,000 students, distributed teaching materials to more than 760 teachers, and built 151 classrooms, 101 temporary learning spaces, 52 latrines and 7 sports fields. UNICEF Chad also supported the salaries of 327 teachers for the 2016-2017 school year. To help drive an increased understanding of the challenges children affected and uprooted by conflict face in accessing school, UNICEF advocate Muzoon Almellehan, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee and education activist, travelled to Chad, a country where nearly three times as many girls as boys of primary-age in conflict areas are missing out on education.

© UNICEF/UN060345/Sokhin

Nigerian refugee Hafsa Oumar, 16, stands outside a classroom at a school in the Daresalam refugee camp. Before coming to Chad, Hafsa never had a chance to attend school. She enrolled for the first time when she arrived in 2015, but stopped attending after marrying in February 2017.


© UNICEF WCARO/ 2017/Rose

In 2017, a bus station in Mali displays a bewildering list of distant cities on the way to Libya. Navigating the complex network of transport can be daunting for those who’ve never left their village. Smugglers offer to help arrange safe houses along the route, but stories of betrayal are common.


© UNICEF WCARO/2017/Delvigne-Jean

“You see people being shot, beaten, and tortured,” says Mustapha reached Libya before coming back home to the Gambia. “I never heard the sound of a gun until I reached Libya, and it was every day there, morning, and night.”

Mustapha set up an organization to help other migrants who’ve returned home.

Fourteen-year-old Issaa, a migrant from Niger, rests his hand on a gate inside a detention centre, in Libya, Saturday 28 January 2017. Issaa, who has five younger brothers, said his mother died two years ago in Niger. “I left Niger two and a half years ago”, he says sitting on one of the dozens of dirty mattresses on the floor. “My father collected money for my journey, he wished me good luck and then let me go. Once I arrived in Libya I started to look for a job." When Issaa was 12 years old, he began to work on a farm. He worked for less than thirty dollars a month, taking care of the farm and feeding the animals. He managed to set aside US$450, which he hoped would pay for a crossing by boat to Italy. He was arrested and detained before he was able to board a boat. At the time of UNICEF’s visit to the detention centre there were ten women, three children and 51 men being held. Issa was the youngest unaccompanied minor in detention. The men's and women's areas are on the same floor, divided only by a locked gate with a padlock. The women being detained were all arrested in Sirte during a recent military offensive. As such they were being detained “pending interrogation” and were not classified as illegal migrants. Libya is a country in turmoil. Since 2014 security is precarious, living is hard, and violence is commonplace. The country is riven with militias in conflict with each other or Government forces. Thousands of children and women hoping to reach Europe travel from Africa and the Middle East to the sea in Libya. They endure exploitation, abuse, violence and detention. In 2016, 181,000 migrants used the route to reach Italy, 25,800 were unaccompanied children. Children and women making the journey live in the shadows, unprotected, outside the law, and reliant on smugglers. Migrants are easy prey and the average number in detention is 6000-7000, depending on the season. The international community, including UNICEF, only has access to some of t

© UNICEF/UN052682/Romenzi

“I left Niger two and a half years ago,” says Issaa, 14, in a detention centre in Libya in 2017. “My father collected money for my journey, he wished me good luck and then let me go.”

Working for less than $US30 per month, Issaa set aside money to pay for a crossing by boat to Italy before he was detained.


© UNICEF Mauritania/2017/Alvarez

Yusuf, 4, dreams of returning to the family’s native Guinea. His father Baboucar left for Spain but ran out of money in Mauritania and had to start working as a builder to make ends meet. Six years later, he’s given up on the idea of Europe and just wants to return home with his family.

2017 Mali

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2017/Luthi

Already married and a mother at 16, Cira’s husband left Mali to find work in Equatorial Guinea. Though she’s not heard from him in a long time, he sends money home. But it’s still a hard life for her — cooking, cleaning, collecting firewood, and working in a nearby goldfield.


© UNICEF/UN034820/Schermbrucker

Awa and her daughter Nantene in Mali in 2016. Until the root causes of poverty are addressed, and solutions provided in the form of economic opportunities, access to health care and access to quality education, people are likely to continue to take dangerous risks migrating for better opportunities.