Human Rights WatchWorld Report ContentsDownloadPrintOrderHRW Homepage

World map Children's Rights



Europe and Central Asia

Middle East and North Africa

Special Issues and Campaigns

United States


Children’s Rights

Women’s Human Rights


Refugee, Immigrant, and Stateless Children

The rights and special protection needs of refugee, immigrant, and stateless children were frequently neglected. Among the world's most vulnerable, these children were often subjected to hazardous or exploitative labor conditions, sexual violence and other physical abuse, denial of education and health care, and other violations of their basic human rights.

In Malaysia's immigration detention centers, Human Rights Watch found young unaccompanied boys detained with unrelated adult men in camps where detainees were robbed, beaten, inadequately fed, and denied medical care. Girls in immigration detention camps were sometimes sexually solicited and touched by male guards. Girls as young as thirteen were separated from their parents and detained for extended periods with little or no contact. Children were also deported separately from their parents to the Thai-Malaysia border.

Children made up 65 percent of the 300,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. Those who had become separated from their parents during flight often took refuge with foster families, where some were neglected, physically abused, denied food, deprived of an education, or exploited for their labor. At times, refugee girls as young as twelve worked as child prostitutes to support themselves. Compounding the risks to refugee children, some of the camps were located dangerously close to the border, with the result that many refugee children were vulnerable to armed raids and forced recruitment for service as child soldiers.

The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) continued to detain unaccompanied children for lengthy periods of time before deporting them or releasing them to family members or appropriate guardians. Human Rights Watch was particularly concerned that more than a third of the children in INS custody-nearly 2,000 children during the year ending in September 1999-were held in juvenile detention centers and county jails. Of the nearly 1,300 children held in secure confinement for more than three days, 58 percent were waiting to be transferred to a shelter care or similar facility or were there simply because the INS lacked any alternative for them. By failing to place children in the least restrictive setting appropriate to their circumstances, the INS violated international standards, its own regulations, and the terms of a court order.

International law guarantees all children the right to have their births registered and the right to a nationality. Children in many parts of the world were denied these basic rights, often affecting their access to an education, health services, or other benefits of citizenship.

Children born to Rohingya refugees in Malaysia were frequently turned out of primary schools when they could not prove legal residency. Not recognized as nationals of Burma, these children were not able to gain legal residency of any country. Although Malaysia's constitution provided citizenship to children born on its territory who would otherwise be stateless, it did not extend this provision to Rohingya children. Many could not obtain birth certificates; even those who could were often denied basic education and health services. Older children and adults were subjected to extortion by police and were not protected as refugees by the Malaysian government (see Malaysia chapter).

Children of longtime Bidun residents of Kuwait faced similar discrimination because their parents were considered stateless or otherwise unable to pass on their nationality under Kuwaiti law. Termed "illegal residents" despite their families' residence in Kuwait for decades, even generations, Bidun children were frequently denied birth certificates and other official documents needed to attend public and private schools or receive medical treatment (see Kuwait chapter).

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

Current Events

The Latest News - Archive



Copyright © 2001
Human RIghts Watch