In West Africa, many children cross borders to seek a better future. Often, they are forced to leave their families or intentionally leave their country to get a better education or find work.
As soon as they leave, many find themselves in precarious circumstances. Sometimes falling victim to trafficking and other kinds of exploitation, they no longer have the means to continue their journey or return to their country.
A challenge...and a solution that go beyond borders
Cooperation between the countries of West Africa is crucial to help them, as is the development of a coordinated response and shared standards. Support, guidance and reintegration assistance for children in vulnerable situations cannot stop as soon as the children cross a national border. These support measures need to be seen as a connected process spanning a whole region.
For this reason, a regional mechanism known as the West Africa Network for the Protection of Children was created in 2005, at the instigation of the Swiss chapter of the International Social Service, a network active in over 140 countries. The network is designed to strengthen and connect existing state, civil society and international structures, increase networking between countries and develop joint procedures to harmonise support.
A fast-growing network
The West Africa Network has grown quickly. From the three founding members (Senegal, Mali, Guinea-Bissau), the number of member countries has grown to 15 in the space of seven years. In this time, more than 4,000 children and young people have received individual mentoring and support that allowed them to be reintegrated into a family environment.
From 2010 to 2013, the SDC supported Nigeria joining the network as part of a migration partnership with Switzerland. The project focused on the state of Sokoto on the border with Niger in the north-west of the country. A large number of migrants from southern Nigeria travel through this state.
In December 2012, a debate organised jointly by the SDC and ISS on the links between migration, protection and development emphasised the network's ability to create sustainable solutions by protecting children and young migrants in difficulty and working directly with them to create new prospects.
The SDC is supporting the West Africa Network until 2015 as part of its Migration and Development in West Africa programme. The programme's aim is to promote migrants' contribution to development by creating coherent migration policies and a global and inclusive approach to migration. The SDC's support for the West Africa Network aims see the norms and standards for the protection of children adopted by the countries concerned and by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Taking action on numerous levels
The network cooperates with three kinds of actor to ensure migrant children in difficulty receive help and are able to reintegrate into society, the education system or the employment market:
- National and supranational authorities in the countries of the region, which contribute to providing support for the children and ensure the good governance of the network.
- Child protection specialists, who have developed methodology for the support and reintegration of children. In each country, an NGO specialising in the protection of children is tasked with coordinating the national network and acts as a contact point for its colleagues in neighbouring countries. This NGO guarantees the quality of the support the children receive.
- Young migrants and their families. The children benefit from projects that help them attend or return to school, receive vocational training or develop activities that will provide them with an income. Helping families find additional sources of income is one of a range of possible measures.
Since the end of 2012, the West Africa chapter of the ISS has been responsible for providing advice, technical support and capacity-building assistance to the various actors in the West Africa Network for the Protection of Children.