Canada doesn't allways take care of separated children

The CCR Youth Network demands that Canada adopt a national policy to take care of separated children.

What do we mean by "separated children"?

Separated children are people under the age of 18 who come to Canada without a parent or usual caregiver and ask for refugee status. In Canada, we often use the term “unaccompanied minor.” However, the term “separated children” is a broader category than “unaccompanied minor” because separated children may be accompanied by an adult who isn’t their parent or usual caregiver. Even if accompanied by an adult, separated children need special attention, because the adult may not be able to take the parental role (for example, a 19-year old sibling should not be expected to fulfill the role of a parent) or may not even have the best interests of the child at heart (there are cases where the accompanying adult’s intention is to exploit the child).


Why is it important to take care of separated children?

Though separated refugee children represent a small proportion of all refugees worldwide, special attention needs to be paid to them because they are extremely vulnerable. In many cases, they have been through traumatizing hardships, such as witnessing the violent death of their family members, being targeted or recruited in armed conflicts, being sexually assaulted, trafficked, persecuted, in addition to being denied their basic rights to education and health. Their parents may be missing, dead, ill or in jail, or they may have been forced to separate from their children as they sought a way to protect their children from persecution. (Separated children seeking asylum in Canada, discussion paper of the UNHCR, July 2001. Available at


What the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says:

Art. 20 (1): A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.

Art. 22 (1): State Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures, shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights…

(2) … In cases where no parents or other members of the family can be found, the child shall be accorded the same protection as any other child permanently or temporarily deprived of his or her family environment for any reason…



What this means:

Governments who have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must make sure that children seeking refugee status receive necessary protection and care, including where they are separated from their parents or usual caregiver.



What the Committee on the Rights of the Child said about Canada:

46. […] The Committee is especially concerned at the absence of:

(a) A national policy on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children;

(b) Standard procedures for the appointment of legal guardians for these children;

(c) A definition of “separated child” and a lack of reliable data on asylum-seeking children;

(d) Adequate training and a consistent approach by the federal authorities in referring vulnerable children to welfare authorities.

Concluding observations: Canada. 27 October 2003


47. In accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention, especially articles 2, 3, 22 and 37, and with respect to children, whether seeking asylum or not, the Committee recommends that the State party:

(a) Adopt and implement a national policy on separated children seeking asylum in Canada;

(b) Implement a process for the appointment of guardians, clearly defining the nature and scope of such guardianship; […]

(d) Develop better policy and operational guidelines covering the return of separated children who are not in need of international protection to their country of origin.

Concluding observations: Canada. 27 October 2003



What actually happens in Canada?

Despite clear UN recommendations to Canada and the extreme vulnerability of separated children claiming refugee status, there is still no national policy to make sure that their rights are properly taken care of. Separated children seem to fall into the gap between federal responsibility for immigration and provincial responsibility for youth protection. The government still doesn’t even keep reliable statistics on how many separated children are making refugee claims in Canada. There is not even a consistent definition of the term “separated children.” Practices vary widely across the country, with some children lacking anyone in the role of guardian of their best interests. Significant work has already been done to identify the elements that should be included in a national policy on separated children. The government (and everyone in Canada!) can benefit from this detailed advice by consulting the Best Practice Statement: Separated Children in Canada.


What should the government do?

The CCR Youth Network demands that Canada adopt a national policy to take care of separated children.