Today, millions of children and youth migrate and cross international borders for many complex reasons, with some forced to leave their homes to escape conflict, violence, poverty, or environmental degradation, and to seek safety, peace and stability. Along the way, they are at risk of abuse, exploitation, and violence. Many travel with family members, but an increasing number of children are travelling alone, putting them at greater risk of harm and exposure to these dangers. The impact of these experiences is devastating and long-lasting. 

In response, the international community has made a number of commitments to protect and uphold the rights of children. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted in 1989, and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and the Global Compact on Refugees (GRC) which were both adopted in 2018 and have been implemented since. In Asia, at the sub-regional level, the ASEAN Declaration on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration (ASEAN-CCM) and its Regional Plan of Action (RPA) were adopted and began implementation in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Additionally, at the regional level, children and youth affected by migration shared their views at the Asia-Pacific Regional Review of Implementation of the GCM in March 2021, as well as at the virtual launch of the ASEAN RPA on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration in January 2022. 

As the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) takes place this May, and beyond, more leadership and agency need to be given to people with lived experience, especially children and youth, to provide feedback and to influence laws, policies, and practices that directly impact their own lives. This inclusion will lead to better and more informed policy development and implementation by States and relevant stakeholders at all levels, with the aim to ensure that the human rights of displaced people and migrant communities, especially children, are always promoted, protected and fulfilled. 

Painting by migrant and refugee children asking the Myanmar government to stop killing people, and requesting Thailand to provide safe space for refugees from Myanmar. Photo Credit: The Development for Children and Community Network (DCCN)

Children and Youth Lead the Way

From December 2021 to March 2022, the Thai government Department of Children and Youth – Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (DCY), International Detention Coalition, Terre des Hommes Germany (TDHs) and UNICEF Thailand, with support of the European Union, co-organised the Children and Youth affected by Migration-Led Advocacy Workshop and Consultation on the National Plan of Action on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration in Thailand. Here are five lessons we learned from this important initiative:

1. Meaningful child participation is critical to advocacy

Meaningful “child participation” refers to ensuring that all children enjoy the right to be heard, express their opinions, and influence decisions that impact them directly. This practice has proven to have a positive impact on the development of children and youth, through enabling them to acquire skills, build on their strengths and competencies, and increase their confidence and self-esteem. Child participation also advances the capacities of children and youth to promote leadership, civic engagement, tolerance, and respect for others. By applying the child participation principle throughout the capacity building process of this initiative, we strengthened the personal and collective empowerment of 175 children and youth affected by migration across 7 provinces in Thailand, including those from migrant, asylum seeking, refugee, and statelessness backgrounds. Through this leadership programme, which was designed using various partner materials, such as TDHs’s Manual on Children’s Participation and IDC’s Community Leadership Curriculum, these young people learned how to analyse relationships of power and develop campaigns to target policy makers and implementers. They also learned about the fundamentals of child rights, and global and regional policy mechanisms.

Migrant children and youth in Maesot, Thailand share their understanding of safety through pictures. Photo Credit: Help Without Frontiers Foundation (HWF)

This group was diverse in background, age, gender, legal status, language, etc., which gave them the opportunity to learn from each other, and share their experiences, challenges and ideas for solutions. Child-centred and inclusive approaches were critical to this process, as it allowed for effective interaction between children and youth, facilitators, teachers, parents and others working on this initiative. As a result, the children and youth were more engaged and confident in amplifying their voices to adults in decision making. We also developed child-friendly materials on the GCM, GCR, ASEAN-CCM and RPA to help children and youth understand these instruments in a simple and clear way so that they were better able to strategically share their opinions with the Thai government and other stakeholders. We also provided capacity building for local organisations to facilitate meaningful child participation using these materials at the grassroots level on an ongoing basis. 

While there has been progress through this initiative, meaningful child participation in policy and decision making continues to be limited. All stakeholders are needed to address this issue and ensure widespread inclusion of the leadership of children and youth affected by migration in advocacy and policy making. 

Children with stateless status in Chiang Rai, Thailand tell adults what makes them feel happy and unhappy. Photo Credit: Hill Area and Community Development Foundation

2. Lived experience leadership has power and impact

In the migration context, leaders with lived experience are those who have direct, personal experience of the migration system, policies and issues. Based on their lived experience and their leadership, these leaders are best placed to inform, shape, and guide social purpose efforts aimed to benefit communities with shared experiences to their own. 

In light of the Thai government’s National Plan of Action on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration, which facilitates Thailand’s commitments in both Global Compacts, ASEAN-CCM, and its RPA, we invited migrant children and youth leaders from our capacity building process to share their experiences and solutions directly to policy-makers. In this forum, attended by Thailand’s Representative to ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children(ACWC), representatives from the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Social Development and Human Security, as well as international organisations and NGOs, the children and youth leaders raised their concerns and presented their statement and recommendations for addressing challenges they face, such as legal status, access to healthcare, access to education, and immigration detention. Listening to these young people and hearing their stories directly was incomparable to reading reports and data, and the representatives present were moved, and felt inspired by the children and youth to take action. The policy-makers and key stakeholders committed to ensuring that the leadership and voices of children and youth are included in the development of the National Plan of Action on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration. 

Through this process, it was clear that centering the leadership of children and youth has power and impact in constructive engagement with policy-makers. We also learned that children and youth are key actors in creating systemic social change when provided the opportunity to do so.

Representatives of children and youth affected by migration in Thailand present their experiences, challenges and recommendations to the Thai government and relevant stakeholders. Photo Credit: Department of Children and Youth (DCY)

3. The whole-of-society approach increases collective capacity to make change

The whole-of-society approach is defined in the GCM and GCR as broad multi-stakeholder partnerships, including governments, UN agencies, civil society, migrant communities, and other actors, that holistically address migration and refugee issues in all of their dimensions. Both Global Compacts also encourage governments to work with relevant stakeholders to make national plans to actualise the agreements made in the Global Compacts through concrete action. In line with the GCM, GCR, ASEAN-CCM, and its RPA, we applied the whole-of-society approach by partnering with government agencies, UN agencies, international and local Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) to advance a united goal to promote, protect and fulfil the rights of migrant children in Thailand. We did this together through the development of the National Plan of Action on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration. 

Children with stateless status in Chiang Rai, Thailand present their needs to adults. Photo Credit: Hill Area and Community Development Foundation

Most importantly, we involved children and youth affected by migration as key stakeholders and partners in the design of this National Plan of Action through meaningful and constructive engagement and capacity support. We ensured that their voices and views were heard and were part of developing solutions, which we believe helps all stakeholders better respond to needs on the ground. This whole-of-society approach allowed all stakeholders involved to understand the mandates, capacities and strengths of their counterparts, and create ways to work together in their various roles toward developing a more humane, just and child-centred migration policy.  This collaborative approach is beneficial, as it increases our collective capacity as a group to challenge complex issues, which cannot be addressed alone or in silos. Most importantly, we learned that in broad multi-stakeholder partnerships, all actors must approach collaboration with respect, trust and with an open-mind. 

The Thai government, intergovernmental organisation, civil society organisations, UN agency, and lived experience leaders jointly committed to improving the situation of children and youth affected by migration in Thailand. Photo Credit: Department of Children and Youth (DCY)

4. Political will is necessary to make systems change

Thailand is a GCM Champion Country, and leads the implementation of Objective 13 of the GCM (alternatives to detention and ending child immigration detention) and Objective 15 (access to services for migrant communities; particularly access to healthcare). Thailand also plays the lead role in developing and implementing ASEAN-CCM and its RPA. These various global and regional commitments affirm the Thai government’s political will to promote the rights of children affected by migration in the country. The commitments also create a more inclusive and enabling environment of change among relevant stakeholders, including civil society, migrant communities and UN agencies, who can more easily plan their advocacy in line with the governments’ agreements within these global and regional instruments. 

Additionally, it is important that we learn from children and youth affected by migration and their leadership and advocacy in Thailand, and use our experience as an example of systems change where those most impacted are part of the change-making process from the beginning. There is much more for the government and relevant stakeholders to do from here on to ensure widespread replication of this process. For example, all stakeholders must agree to this new approach, and involve children and youth affected by migration throughout the development and implementation of policies that directly impact them.

H.E. Wanchai Roujanavong, Thailand’s Representative to ACWC for Children’s Rights, told children and youth affected by migration to bring their suggestions to ASEAN to help promote meaningful change. Photo Credit: Department of Children and Youth (DCY)

5. Global-to-local advocacy must be driven by local solutions 

The global-to-local concept is based on ideas of inclusion and interconnection between global and local levels. For example, the GCM, GCR, ASEAN-CCM, and its RPA are global and regional instruments and commitments that must be implemented at national, local and community levels. Through our process, we applied this concept by translating global and regional commitments into the local context by creating a roadmap for implementation alongside children and youth affected by migration – the National Plan of Action on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration. 

We identified this process as a good practice and an important local solution in Thailand, and believe that the lessons we learned can help others hoping to do the same in their countries, as local solutions in one country can be adapted, replicated and scaled in other settings. By sharing the lessons we’ve learned, we hope to help encourage others to also ensure that the voices and leadership of migrant children are heard in all parts of the world.

Children and youth affected by migration from Bangkok and suburb areas celebrate their successful advocacy with the Thai government and relevant stakeholders. Photo Credit: Department of Children and Youth (DCY)


The partners involved in this initiative have developed a detailed Summary Document about their children and youth consultation and leadership process, please view this for more insights. For further information about the Children and Youth Affected by Migration-Led Advocacy initiative in Thailand, please contact: 


Written by Chawaratt Chawarangkul IDC Southeast Asia Programme Manager & Mia-lia Boua Kiernan IDC Communications & Engagement Coordinator