Children make up about a third of the world's population, but account for almost half of all refugees UNICEF said in its report issued on Tuesday. The number of child refugees has doubled in the last decade, the report "Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children" states.
"What's important is that these children on the move are children. And they should be treated as children," said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Programs in Geneva. "They deserve to be protected. They need access to services, such as education."
Of the 28 million children, 10 million are child refugees and one million are asylum-seekers whose status has not yet been determined. The remaining 17 million children are displaced by conflict and remain within the borders of their home countries.
The report said 45 percent of the children refugees came from just two countries: Syria and Afghanistan.
The children mentioned are also increasingly traveling alone, with 100,000 unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in 78 countries in 2015, three times the number in 2014.
The report estimates a further 20 million children are migrants, driven from their homes by poverty and gang violence among other things.
Refugee and migrant children face a host of risks including drowning during sea crossings, malnourishment, dehydration, kidnapping, rape and murder. When they arrive in other countries they often face discrimination and xenophobia, the report stated.
"The world hears the stories of child refugees one child at a time and the world is able to bring support to that child, but when we talk about millions it provokes incredible outrage and underscores the need to address the growing problem," said Emily Garin, the report's author.
UNICEF called on the international community to provide protection, education and health services to these children and for governments to address the root causes contributing to the large-scale movements of refugees and migrants.
"We'd like to see some clear commitments and practical measures," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth told journalists in New York. "The burden sharing of this crisis is not fair: the greatest burden is supported by neighboring countries or the poorest countries."
jbh/jm (AFP, AP)