Protection of Migrant Children: the Shameful Parisian Lottery

Child protection should not be a lottery.

When Sébastien D., a 17-year-old Cameroonian boy, arrived in Paris at the end of July, he sought help from the Paris child protection system, hoping for placement with a foster family or in a shelter. Instead, after one night in temporary accommodation, he has been spending his nights in the Place de la République.

“To sleep, you look for a corner, you lay down a piece of cardboard. If you find an older gentleman, he might give you a blanket. Because at night it can be very cold,” he said.

He’s sleeping on the streets because entering the child protection system isn’t a straightforward process for unaccompanied migrant children. Like many migrant children, Sébastien didn’t have a copy of his birth certificate with him. He should have had the opportunity to establish his age through a comprehensive interview and an evaluation by a multidisciplinary team. Instead, he faced a truncated process in which an examiner rattled through a series of questions without explanation and then told him to return the following day to pick up the official notice that he’d been denied formal recognition as a minor.

Sébastien’s letter looks like many others we’ve seen during our review of age assessment procedures in Paris—it’s based on grounds that appear to be arbitrary.

His lack of identity documents counted against him, even though many children lose their documents during their journeys, and even though French procedures anticipate this reality. In other cases, on the other hand, many of the decisions we examined dismissed birth certificates and other identity documents, even if authenticated by embassies or courts in the country of origin.

Working during the journey, as Sébastien did, or taking the decision to travel alone was also frequently taken as evidence of adulthood, even though many children around the world travel unaccompanied and many more work, as Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented.