More than 7 million children in West and Central Africa are displaced every year, the United Nations children’s agency said in a report released Wednesday.
Lack of economic opportunities, wars and climate change are forcing more than 12 million people in West and Central Africa to migrate annually, the report said.
“Children in West and Central Africa are moving in greater numbers than ever before, many in search of safety or a better life,” UNICEF regional director Marie-Pierre Poirier said.
Climate change is already a harsh reality in many parts of Africa, where rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall have disrupted food production, fueled widespread hunger and forced farmers to abandon their land.
A half-million people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy over the past four years, mainly sub-Saharan Africans who pay smugglers to shepherd them across the desert to Libya, and onward to Europe in unseaworthy dinghies.
But unlike displaced adults, most of the children remain in sub-Saharan Africa, with less than 1-in-5 attempting the perilous journey to Europe.
“Unless the long-term planning of governments and civil society is equipped to anticipate these climate shocks and subsequent migration, the unmitigated impact of these forces will create detrimental outcomes for children across the region,” the report said.
It urged all governments, in West and Central African and Europe to make unaccompanied minors a priority when drafting migrant policies; stop detention of migrant children; try to keep families together; and provide access to education and healthcare for the children.
Globally, 65.6 million people are uprooted and nearly half of them are children, the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR says.