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Children On the Move blog series: Why Leave Home?

I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?
it answered
   ―Warsan Shire

The refugee and migrant crises track the stress lines of today’s world. Societies and countries face fractures caused by conflict and violence, poverty, climate change and demographic change, not to mention technology which downloads images of affluence into just about every home.

Children in conflicts: Fifteen new conflicts have broken out or reignited in the past five years, and the numbers of protracted emergencies – conflicts that have lasted for over five years – are also growing.

Today 1.2 billion children and their parents are living in a state of near permanent conflict or in zones of economic and social breakdown – the tide of refugees pouring into Europe from the Middle East is but one manifestation of this crisis. They flee the brutalities of civil war and gang-related violence, assault, rape, recruitment, disappearance and murder.

Not every child is born equal: Nearly half of the 700 million people living in extreme poverty are children and most live in rural areas. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of the global poor. Poverty is declining in all regions but it is becoming deeper and more entrenched in countries that are either conflict ridden or overly dependent on commodity exports. The number of young children from poor households is particularly pronounced in the lowest-income countries, where more than half of children under age 12 live in extreme poverty.

Children and demographic change: The demographic bulge in the developing world is another major driver of migration, both legal and illegal. A billion children will be living in Africa by 2050.

UNICEF research from West and Central Africa and the Horn of Africa identifies poverty and a lack of employment opportunities as the main reason that young people move. More than 75 percent of the migration is within Africa. Less than 20% of migrants journey outside the regions.

The forecast for children: The current El Niño demonstrates how climate change will create new migration dynamics. To date, it has put at risk 11 million children in East and Southern Africa, 3.5 million in Central and South America and 2.4 million in the Pacific. Added to this is a body of evidence which forecasts that climate change will increase the intensity and frequency of natural disasters and create even move imperatives to move.

In the coming decade, climate-change related events are projected to impact on 200 million children ― a tripling of current numbers. More children will denied their most basic rights and made even more vulnerable.

Most are concentrated in those countries that can least handle these challenges — and faced by those citizens and communities least able to survive them: the poorest, the most marginalized, and, everywhere, the children. Potentially each and every one of them could then be forced to move.

Put these outlines together and it means that up to half a billion children will bear an even heavier burden and become even more vulnerable as the clearest indicator of the interwoven, cross-border and multi-dimensional crises confronting us - creating the stress lines of today’s world.

More in the Children on the Move Blog Series:

Geographic Regions: