Global Priorities for Unaccompanied, Separated Children

September 12, 2022

Washington, DC – As nations from around the world gather this week in New York City for the 77th meeting of the UN General Assembly, war, climate change, and other instability continue to fuel historic levels of migration and danger, including among children alone. Just last week, the United Nations said that there were credible allegations that Russian authorities have forcibly transferred unaccompanied children to Russia and Russian occupied territories for adoption by Russian families, an appalling development that underscores the vulnerability of children alone.

While a number of countries have made vital individual and collective commitments to advance the rights and protection of migrant and refugee children, these efforts too often fail, separating families and creating lifelong trauma for these children and their families.

Building on years of experience working to protect unaccompanied and separated children as they migrate alone in search of safety, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has identified priorities that are foundational to the rights and well-being of these children and to closing protection gaps. KIND envisions these recommendations as a resource for countries to develop safeguards bolstered by cooperation among UN Members States and civil society and by the insights and experiences of unaccompanied and separated children.

“Despite well-intentioned commitments of countries around the world to protect children on the move, the gap between promises and policies remains significant and too many unaccompanied and separated children are falling into danger,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “Prioritizing a child-centered approach will help us reach our protection goals for these children and greatly impact their safety and well-being.”

KIND urges nations to advance the following priorities:

  • Child protection and best interests should be central tenets of any policymaking, procedures, and decisions affecting unaccompanied and separated children.
  • Participation by unaccompanied and separated children should be prioritized in decision-making and policy development.
  • All unaccompanied and separated children should be afforded safe access to territory to request protection and be received in a safe, humanitarian, and child-appropriate manner.
  • Policies should protect family unity and provide for family reunification where in children’s best interests, with safeguards to prevent unnecessary family separation.
  • Children awaiting reunification or without available caregivers should be cared for in settings that provide for their best interests and punitive detention should never be used to deter irregular migration.
  • Supportive social services should be made available to all unaccompanied and separated children.
  • All legal processes impacting migrant and refugee children should assure fair access to protection, child-sensitive procedures, and high-quality legal representation.
  • Policies and mechanisms for legal protection should reflect children’s unique needs and vulnerabilities and ensure that children are never returned to harm.
  • Laws and policies should require rigorous safety and best interest assessments to prevent the repatriation of children to harm. Repatriating children should be afforded a safe return and reception process and holistic reintegration services.
  • Governments should coordinate transnationally to facilitate transfer and relocation when in a child’s best interests.

To learn more: Embracing Child Protection: Priorities to Support the Safety and Well-being of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Globally

Wendy Young is available to speak about the importance of centering and collaborating on these priorities for child protection among UN Member States, including the United States, where KIND has its headquarters.


Media Contact:

Megan McKenna,, 202-631-9990

Meredith MacKenzie de Silva, West End Strategy Team, (202) 412-4270