Rights of migrant, refugee, stateless and undocumented children - our position (2019)

As outlined in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child has the right to voice, protection, health and education. We urge all states to recognise and realise their obligation to children's access to healthcare.

Children are children – no matter where they may be. The RCPCH supports the rights of children to identity, voice, family, protection, health and education as universal, inalienable and unequivocal, and urges all states party under relevant international and multilateral legal and treaty agreements to recognise and realise their obligations fully.

The complete or partial exclusion of children from access to basic healthcare available to local, resident or settled populations on the grounds of migrant status or temporary statelessness is a failure of humanity and a fundamental breach of global norms and international humanitarian and human rights law.

The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child entitles all children without discrimination to optimal survival and development, to a voice and the right to participate in decisions that affect them and to optimal health and health care. These rights are absolute and global and are not predicated on other considerations of national identity or registration.

Responsibility for realisation of children’s rights, including during periods of movement within territories and across borders, rests with all bodies within each country with a statutory duty of care for babies, infants, children and young people. Accountability for the adequate protection of children and fulfilment of their rights rest with states collectively, recognising the universality and hence portability of the rights of the individual child reproducibly in entirety between and among sovereign states without exception or qualification.  

The right to health implies a comprehensive set of obligations on the part of duty-bearers to the highest attainable level of health defined not simply as an absence of disease but as a positive condition of physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.

For children, including children in families on the move globally and children presenting as unaccompanied or undocumented migrants, this entails not only ensuring equitable access to all basic, common services available to local resident communities, but also providing mitigation of and protection from long term child, adolescent and adult harms to physical and mental health resulting from inhumane or cruel treatment including uses of force in separation of children from family members, detention without due cause or process, exposure to or failure to protect from economic or sexual exploitation, physical or sexual violence.

Notes and references

  • In the context of this document, ‘children’ are defined as up to age 18.
  • United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, September 1990 [Articles 2, 6, 12 & 24], https://downloads.unicef.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/UNCRC_united_nations_convention_on_the_rights_of_the_child.pdf
  • Budapest Declaration on the Rights, Health and Well-being of Children and Youth on the Move, International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health (ISSOP), Budapest, October 2017.
  • WHO/EURO. Stepping up action on refugee and migrant health: Towards a WHO European framework for collaborative action. Outcome document of the High-level Meeting on Refugee and Migrant Health 23-24 November 2015 Rome, Italy.
  • Zimmerman C, Kiss L, Hossain M (2011) Migration and Health: A Framework for 21st Century Policy-Making. PLoS Med 8(5): e1001034. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001034