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The hardships of being a migrant child

In recent years the Latin-American migratory phenomenon has transformed due to changes in the international context and politics of the region. Therefore, historically ejectors countries are receiving waves of migrants without being prepared to face situations which imply now acting as acceptors. Colombia is an example, receiving more than 1 million Venezuelan nationals without the evident sub-registry.

The increment of Venezuelan migration has been a challenge for the territorial entities. However, in the current electoral context, the migratory topic is nowhere to be seen, although xenophobia and labor exploitation towards these immigrants has increased.

Colombia is also considered a transit country towards Central, North and South America and most immigrants, besides the Venezuelans, are Cuban, Haitian and Native-Americans. Even so, it is a challenge to have legislation in migrant matters. There was a first attempt in 2001 with a program known as “Colombia Nos Une” (Colombia Unites us) which focused on Colombian nationals living abroad and other regulations which have sought to restrict entry of foreigners into Colombia, although this did not respond to the real protection needs.

The human rights for children included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 are the main tool which compels governments to establish respect, guarantee, and protection in legal system measures. But are children protected in an efficient manner by the governments, societies, and communities? What does a superior interest for children mean? How is it implemented?

The formal existence of international rights, regulations or public policies does not imply respect supremacy for children, especially in regards to migratory flow.

Asking these questions from the academic standpoint is an investigative effort to contextualize the situation of migrant children. Among the contributions in this topic, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Migration and Displacement Group is currently engaging in a research project on international migrations of children and youngsters in   Colombia and Chile, focused on the right to guaranteed education.

One of the starting points has been international regulations which have provided tools to countries to establish or project public policies directed to child migrants. To achieve these rights, several international instruments have been taken into consideration:

  • Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right of every person to develop a personality and become part of society. The signatories of the covenant recognize the need to provide certain conditions such as access to different levels of education, promotion and eventually gratuitous education.
  • Articles 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognized the right to education as a tool for development of the personality and the commitment of the government to guarantee it.
  • Article 30 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families establishes that all children of migrant workers will have a right to education and may have access to education in equality conditions.

These instruments will be the basis for the regulation analysis and the different program implemented in both countries. However, the migrant population and their children are in vulnerability conditions, without conditions which guarantee their fundamental rights such as education and healthcare; and with obstacles to having access to them. There is no way a parent can register a child in school without complying with certain bureaucratic requirements, such as a birth certificate, previous school records, a passport or a visa, which being in a state of irregularity is practically impossible to attain.

Although the Colombian government has called on the right to guarantee education, three aspects have created confusion: the lack of information in schools, the absences of specific regulations and a ruling of the Constitutional Court of Colombia requiring a visa for foreign students to access an educational institution.

The Chilean case  

According to the Spanish National Statistics Institute in 2018 the main migrants in Chile came from Peru (23%) and Colombia (21%). In 2017 the immigrant population was 17,574,003 and for 2014 it was estimated at 2.3% of the resident population of Chile.

In 2013, after issuing several reforms and decrees, Chilean authorities presented a new migratory law in Congress which hoped to answer the migratory issue. However, its content was focused on labor migration and did not include other possible situations. At the same time, other sectors of the Chilean politics adopted the national security position, stating that the entry of migrants impacted the economy and general conditions of Chilean nationals.

Five years have passed with unsuccessful attempts to create a National Migratory System with the purpose of filling the voids of the current regulations. Amid controversies, hundreds of migrants have gone to the streets to demand an effective solution, as was promised by the government of President Michelle Bachelet in 2017.

Despite the virtues of this project, there is discomfort in the Chilean population which perceives it as an attempt to favor migrants instead of their own, deepening situation as xenophobia and racism. There is still much to do to achieve approval of this project as the law could also have positive repercussions for Colombia, which also faces a similar issue with Venezuelan migration.

The debate continues to be open and the solutions are all adult-centered. The voices of children will have to be taken into account at some point. The prior implies thinking on multiple infancies between 0 and 18 years of age, including different junctions between gender, race, ethnics, age, impairment, economic conditions, social class and impoverishment processes which produce migrant situations.

 *Stephanie López Villamil, Carolina Rodríguez Lizarralde, Laura Catalina Barriga Durán and Laura Daniela Aristizábal González.


Consejo Editorial