in Europe

5 questions and answers about Gender-Based Violence affecting children and youth in migration


Studies point to alarming accounts of sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) affecting refugee and migrant children and youth. What is GBV, who can be affected, what makes refugee and migrant children and youth more vulnerable to GBV, how can we recognize and fight GBV? The answers below will help you to better understand this grave human rights violation.

What is gender-based violence (GBV)?

Sexual and gender-based violence refers to any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will on the basis of their gender or sex. Gender norms and unequal power relations between males and females are the main cause of GBV. Even though any gender can be affected by this type of violence, it is women and girls who are mainly the victims of it as most often men have a dominant role in gender relations.

GBV encompasses threats of violence, coercion, and deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. It inflicts physical, mental, or sexual harm or suffering on the person.

The term is also used by some actors to describe some forms of sexual violence against males and/or targeted violence against LGBTI populations, in these cases when referencing violence related to gender-inequitable norms of masculinity and/or norms of gender identity.

This grave human rights violation can cause long-term and life-threatening injury and trauma to victims/survivors.

Who can be affected by GBV?

Gender-based violence can impact anyone regardless of their gender identity, race, religion, location, or economic and social situation. It can also manifest itself in various contexts and environments. However, young women and girls in particular are singled out for abuse and exploitation because of their gender.

Children and youth on the move are also among the most vulnerable to GBV. They may leave their home country to escape GBV and they may experience GBV during their journey, as well as even after they arrive at their destination country.

What makes migrant and refugee children more vulnerable to GBV?

Migration can be a traumatic experience for children and youth. They are sometimes travelling thousands of kilometres in dangerous and unhealthy conditions with limited access to food, shelter or medical care. The increased vulnerability, as a result, puts children and youth on the move at risk of GBV. This may include violence and exploitation by traffickers, civil servants, staff from public institutions, other migrants, or even their own family members.

How to recognise GBV among children and youth on the move?

Many victims of GBV may not recognise what is happening to them, let alone understand how to report it. Even if they are aware of it, victims are usually afraid to report GBV, and are commonly disbelieved, ignored or blamed and shamed by their families and communities when they do.

For these various reasons, most cases of gender-based violence go unreported by children. It is therefore up to adults to be able to recognize the signs of gender-based violence so that appropriate and swift action can be taken.

There are specific indicators that adults can look for in order to determine if a child is experiencing abuse or is at risk of abuse. These can be grouped into three categories: physical signs, social patterns, behaviour patterns. This e-learning course on GBV provides further details.

How can we fight GBV affecting children and youth on the move?

An overwhelming majority of girls and boys do not know about the risk of GBV when they are migrating, especially alone. They do not know where to get services nor how to access them. Thus, serious gaps exist that can be filled by care professionals and frontline workers.

Professionals who are working with children and youth on the move (particularly those working on the frontline) – whether they are a health or psychosocial support provider, legal counsellor or border guard – have a crucial role to keep children safe from GBV.

This is the driving force of the regional project "BRIDGE - Building Relationships through Innovative Development of Gender Based Violence Awareness in Europe" – to strength the response to this issue and to inform children and youth on how to better protect themselves.

To reach this objective, Terre des hommes and its partners are building the capacity and knowledge of care professionals and youth in Belgium, Greece, Malta and Romania. Through various learning materials and opportunities, professionals learn how to identify and address specific forms of GBV among children and youth on the move and how to help them to recognise, prevent and report it. At the same time, we are carrying out awareness raising sessions with children and youth.

If you wish to learn more, here is a list of BRIDGE resources:

  • Free online course: - designed for professionals who come into contact with children and youth on the move. The focus is on building the knowledge and capacity to prevent, identify, and respond to GBV. The course is available in English, Dutch, French, Greek and Romanian.
  • Training Manual: Gender Based Violence Affecting Children and Youth on the Move, Click here. 
  • Youth Facilitator Training Manual: Gender-Based Violence Affecting Children and Youth on the Move, Click here
  • Upcoming webinars:
    • 28 November 2019, Medical and psychological aspects related to the phenomenon of female genital mutilation, Register here
    • 4 December 2019, PROTECT - Preventing sexual and gender-based violence against migrants and strengthening support to victims, Register here
  • Recordings of past webinars:
    • 12 June 2019, Prevention and fight against female genital mutilation: an inspiring experience from Belgium, Watch here
    • 10 September 2019, ‘Blind Spots’: Unaccompanied and Separated Girls in Europe, Watch here
    • 9 October 2019, Building knowledge and capacities on gender-based violence - BRIDGE project training curricula, Watch here