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October 11, 2023

A Child-centered Policy Workshop Amplifies the Voices of Young People with Lived Experience

On September 22, 2023, the Georgetown University Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues hosted “Children on the Move: A Child-centered Policy and Learning Workshop,” an event that centered children in the discourse around forced displacement and migration.

Young people who have experienced displacement share their stories in the “Lived Experience is Expertise” panel
Young people who have experienced displacement share their stories in the “Lived Experience is Expertise” panel

The workshop came on the heels of a visit to Washington, D.C. by Little Amal, the internationally celebrated 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl. The collaborative and other partners greeted Little Amal at the U.S. Capitol, where she shared stories of children like her that are on the move to seek safety and protection within and across borders.

Promoting Child-sensitive Policies

In an era marked by escalating global challenges – from violence and climate disasters to poverty and conflict – children are often the ones who bear the brunt of these hardships. There are more children on the move than ever before. Currently, nearly 40 percent of the 100 million displaced persons worldwide are under the age of 18. Yet, their voices and needs are too often overlooked in discussions about migration policy and response.

Planning the workshop exemplified the cooperation needed to address a gap of this magnitude and complexity. Georgetown University’s Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues brought together university colleagues from the Human Rights Institute; Institute for the Study of International Migration; Institute for Women, Peace, and Security; and Laboratory on Global Performance and Politics. Stakeholders from the InterAction Forced Displacement Working Group, International Rescue Committee, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Save the Children, and UNICEF USA brought the perspectives of practitioners and policymakers.

Together they provided workshop speakers and attendees with the opportunity to consider what child-sensitive policies and responses to children on the move would look like within U.S. foreign and domestic policy contexts. Young people who have experienced displacement, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers engaged with each other through a series of interactive panel discussions, and attendees shared ideas and learned from each other during breakout sessions.

Bringing Young Voices to the Forefront​

Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues Executive Director Gillian Huebner welcomed participants and set the stage for a day that was both enlightening and emotionally resonant.

One of the standout moments was the “Lived Experience Is Expertise” panel, which featured young people who have personally experienced displacement, migration, and refugee resettlement. Panelist Jimmi Rios, a young person from El Salvador who has experienced displacement, commented that he appreciated being a part of this workshop because it allowed him to meet other people who have had similar experiences.

“This event gave me the privilege to meet people who I can make connections with and maybe work with in the future to make changes for my community and for the future generation.”

This segment was a powerful reminder that these young voices should be at the forefront of discussions about their own futures. It was opened and closed by poetry performances from panelists Bertha Nibigira and Zahra Wakilzada (SFS’24). Wakilzada, a young person from Afghanistan who has experienced displacement, emphasized the importance of using her voice.

“Having agency over my story and how I say it is not only powerful, but it also brings dignity to me and my people. I have experienced my life, and I take ownership and agency of my story and how I say it."

Zahra Wakilzada (SFS’24), a young person from Afghanistan who has experienced displacement, performing a poem.
Zahra Wakilzada (SFS’24), a young person from Afghanistan who has experienced displacement, performing a poem.

Following the panel discussions, workshop participants had the opportunity to immerse themselves in a unique experience. “Two Paths, One Destiny," an interactive activity, allowed attendees to step into the shoes of two children – one a refugee, the other an asylum-seeker – navigating the complexities of forced displacement. This simulation brought to life the challenges, hopes, and fears of these young individuals, as well as the complex choices that face the individuals and communities that receive, guide, and support them.

The day ended with closing remarks from Rose Worden, program manager for humanitarian policy at InterAction, who reinforced the importance of child-centered policies and collective action in addressing the needs of displaced children.

Nibigira, a young person and panelist from Burundi who has experienced displacement, summarized the importance of the workshop in creating opportunities for policy change.

​“To see conversations like these taking place on this campus gives me hope. By investing in this, Georgetown University is planting seeds and giving this work credibility.”

To view articles, statements, and other resources shared with participants, visit our resources page.

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Children and adults migrating en masse.

November 8, 2023

This policy brief was developed jointly by the Collaborative on Global Children's Issues, InterAction and UNICEF USA in conjunction with the Children on the Move Workshop. It discusses the experience, resilience, and needs of children on the move, and presents a set of recommendations for how to actively put the interests of the child at the center of policy discussions and responses to unprecedented displacement numbers globally.