Girls on the Move

Insights into the experiences of Girls on the Move in the Balkans

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December 2020

By Sofyen Khalfaoui (connect on LinkedI​​n​)​ and Tajana Ristićm​​, Save the Children 

Report Lead A​uthor: Jelena Becedic, Balkans Migration and Displacement Hub, Save the Children

Conflict, insecurity and discrimination are among the many drivers that force girls and female adolescents to migrate, exposing them to myriad risks such as violence or abuse during their journey. In order to better supp​ort girls on the move during the different stages of migration and immediately strengthen ongoing interventions, Save the Children launched the Girls on the Move Initiative. This is a global series of action research conducted across different regions. Through this research, we focus on addressing knowledge gaps in current literature and programme approaches and designing specific recommendations for action. In Europe, the research was carried out by Save the Children's Balkans Migration and Displacement Hub, with a focus on girls and their families who migrate to Greece, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina using the so-called Western Balkans Route. Since 2018, this route has been the most frequently used one by refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe, with Greece as the first point of entry. Over a million refugees and migrants from Middle Eastern countries such as Syria or Afghanistan and different African countries passed through this route. Out of them, approximately 30% were children.

The findings of the study indicate that during their migration journey, girls face a multitude of challenges which are often gender specific. Moreover, it became evident that programming adjustments are needed to appropriately respond to their needs. The push factors identified for families and unaccompanied girls that lead to migration are complex, with safety and the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence mentioned as two predominant drivers for the decision to move. Having daughters often served as an additional push factor for leaving, as there were intentions to prevent forced marriages, escape domestic violence or ensure access to education for girls. Families with children and unaccompanied girls emphasized the importance of travelling in groups and choosing a reliable smuggler, even if this meant waiting longer in some countries of transit. They also reported having very little information about the journey ahead of time, and limited access to information throughout the migration journey. To compensate for this lack of knowledge, they relied predominantly on their families, those who had recently reached the destination, other refugees and migrants who are mostly women or even on smugglers. Findings show that families travelling with children possibly have a different decision-making process from refugees and migrants who travel without families. Travelling with children or as single women tended to be more expensive as these travellers sought to ensure some “safety" during the journey.


The importance of a strong bond between mothers and daughters emerged as another strong finding, with mothers ensuring their daughters were consulted and protected. Girls themselves often struggled to articulate their migration stories, but they still report personal experiences of violence, including rape and sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, deceit by smugglers or abandonment during dangerous situations. Girls were often seemingly absent from decision-making. However, they were involved in a less obvious way through consultation with mothers and other women, and with noticeable differences in agency between younger and older girls or unaccompanied and accompanied girls. Absence of friends, few targeted activities and limited access to schools coupled with a lack of (female) interpreters was described as contributing to the feeling of loneliness. Accommodation options for girls were limited, and although efforts to ensure separate spaces for girls and families were reported in all three countries covered, the situation on the ground remained challenging.


This research on girls on the move in the Balkans provides an important insight into the lives, journeys, gender-specific vulnerabilities and needs of girls travelling through the region. It confirms the need for further investment in researching girls in migration contexts to inform impactful responses. The report holds valuable lessons and recommendations for a range of stakeholders who have the intention and responsibility to protect girls on the move and safeguard their rights, such as governments, authorities and civil society.

The report "Girls on the Move in the Balkans" as well as the reports from other geographical contexts in the research series can be found here:


The report "Girls on the Move in the Balkans" as well as the reports from other geographical contexts in the research series can be found here: