Child refugees deserve better

Child refugees deserve better

Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, takes pride in having compassion as a core societal value. Thus, how astonishing the contradiction that it is the only nation that officially refuses to aid child refugees.

Thailand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. It is the only nation out of the 193 signatories to reject Article 22, which commits to taking all necessary steps to protect and help refugee and asylum-seeking children.

There are about 96,000 refugees living in limbo in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, most of them ethnic minorities fleeing war and violence in Myanmar. Half of the refugees in these camps are children, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assessment last year.

Due to ongoing war atrocities in Myanmar and clashes between the Myanmar military and Karen armed groups along borders from Mae Hong Son to Ranong, people continue to flee for their safety in Thailand only to be driven back into danger.

In the meantime, as a result of wars in Lebanon, Syria and Ukraine, as well as the brutal persecution of ethnic minorities in many countries, refugees and asylum seekers continue to stream into Thailand.

There are about 5,000 of them in Bangkok and its metropolitan areas. They are registered with the UNHCR, but many, like Rohingya and the North Koreans who fled persecution in their home countries, are left out of the system.

A large number of refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand are children. Without proper assistance, they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Thailand must stop opposing Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child for several reasons. Motivated by national security concerns 30 years ago, Thailand today still sticks to the position.

Firstly, the country's position against refugee children is no longer relevant. Assisting them strengthens human security and ultimately benefits Thailand.

Secondly, Thailand's reputation has suffered as a result of this blatant violation of children's rights.

Thirdly, over the past 30 years, Thailand has made numerous policy advancements to support refugees, asylum seekers and stateless children. Therefore, its "reservation" about Article 22 is no longer necessary.

In 2005, Thailand introduced the "Education for All" policy to guarantee equal access to education for all children living in the country.

Additionally, it gives them access to all levels of education, including doctoral programmes. They can have the same rights to free education as Thai children for 15 years, up to and including high school. Refugee camp children receive their education there and, if necessary, can ask for permission to attend schools outside.

In 2017, Thailand amended the law to stop treating children born to migrants as illegal migrants subject to deportation. As a result, the children can legally remain with their parents. They can also register their birth so that they can have legal status and rights.

In 2019, seven state agencies signed a memorandum to stop holding children in immigration detention facilities while their parents await deportation. The government also issued a rule on refugee screening that year so they would not be treated as undocumented migrants to be detained and deported.

Most recently, on Feb 22, the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act came into force. It forbids sending refugees or people seeking asylum to a country where their lives will be in danger. Their children are then safe, thanks to the non-refoulement principle.

Given these legal developments, it is odd that Thailand still maintains its reservations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The House Sub-committee on Children's Affairs and state agencies met to address this issue on Aug 25 last year. They agreed that Thailand should remove this reservation because it has been caring for the children of refugees in accordance with the Child Protection Act.

Months have passed, and the House sub-committee has yet to forward the issue to the cabinet for approval. Similarly, the 2019 rules governing the screening of refugees to uphold their rights and safety have not yet been put into effect.

Bureaucratic inertia continues to be a major obstacle. Removing the reservation to provide protection to refugee children will send a clear message to the bureaucrats and breathe new life into government efforts to offer more comprehensive aid.

Thailand must act now to live up to its reputation for compassion and do what is right for children in need.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email :

Do you like the content of this article?

France unrest

A total of 457 people were arrested and 441 security forces were injured on Thursday during nationwide protests against French President Macron's pensions reform.


Transgender athletes condemn ban on inclusion in female events

SYDNEY/LOS ANGELES: Transgender athletes have condemned World Athletics' exclusion of transgender women from elite female competitions, while the decision was welcomed by some sportswomen as a win for fairness.


Two women injured in gun attack in Pattaya

CHON BURI: Two women - a Thai and a Chinese - were wounded in a gun attack on their car in Pattaya in the early hours of Friday, as police believed the injured were wrongly targeted.