Migrant Family Separation: How common is this practice?

The outcry surrounding forced family separation of migrants along the Mexican-American border has highlighted a much larger and possibly less well-known problem facing children of irregular migrants in many parts of the world. Forced family separation have been reported in India and England, where the children of parents detained for violating immigration laws can not only be placed in emergency foster care and shelter homes but also be eventually put up for adoption. In the UK, about 15,000 children are estimated to have been affected by family separation through immigration rules implemented between 2012 and 2015. In Belize, children of detained adult irregular migrants are typically sent alone to pre-deportation centres. These practices clearly contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was enacted in 1948 in response to the second World War, and emphasizes that the family is a fundamental unit which inherently deserves protection by both the state and society. They similarly contravene the Convention on the Rights of the Child which reaffirms that children have the right, as far as possible, to be raised by their biological parents, and to have their best interests taken into consideration by the law. Only when removing a child from the family context can be clearly shown to be in his or her best interest is separation acceptable. Otherwise, forced separation of children from their biological parents or regular carers has been shown to have potentially adverse implications for trauma and post-traumatic stress disorders, brain development and later intelligence scores, emotional stability and shorter life expectancy.

ICMHD encourages countries to seek viable alternatives to separating and detaining children of irregular migrants, and it appeals to them to take measures that protect and promote the mental and physical health of children and migrants of all ages irrespective of the migration situation they find themselves in.

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