The West Africa Network for the protection of children – objectives, results and perspectives

The West Africa Network for the protection of children – objectives, results and perspectives

[Disponible en Français] July 2015

Olivier Geissler, SERVICE SOCIAL INTERNATIONAL, Fondation suisse (Genève). Email:
Dr Djibril FALL, SERVICE SOCIAL INTERNATIONAL, Représentant en Afrique de l’Ouest. Email:


 Listen to Djibril Fall from SSI to learn more about WAN (Video)  

The primary mission of the West Africa Network for the protection of children -WAN- (1) is the transnational protection of vulnerable children and young migrants moving between countries of West Africa accompanied by social, educational or vocational measures.

Short summary

Since 2005, West African countries have been developing a cooperation mechanism aiming to protect and reintegrate young migrants from one country to another. This regional cooperation now encompasses the 15 countries of ECOWAS. 1’000 young migrants a year are supported by the WAN Network following a common procedure of intervention based on harmonized standards. This South-South initiative is supported by the Swiss branch of the International Social Service (ISS) and its West African chapter.

Genesis of the initiative

Since the year 2000, ISS in Switzerland and in several European countries were confronted with a number of cases of unaccompanied minors notably coming from West Africa. This situation pushed ISS to start a dialogue with the actors of these countries to better understand the phenomenon and to develop common measures. The reality showed that many children move within West Africa but only a minority head to Europe. Most of them move from their village to nearby towns or to neighbouring countries showing that the phenomenon is primarily a South-South issue and that solutions should be developed accordingly.

West Africa offers free movement but vulnerable migrants are insufficiently protected

It is a fact that West Africa is a region of great mobility. Historically, trade and migration routes existed for centuries within West Africa and across regions to Maghreb or Central Africa. Since the adoption of the ECOWAS protocol on the free movement of persons in 1979, the member states are working towards a proper borderless sub-region.

Unfortunately, measures to protect vulnerable groups such as children moving in the ECOWAS space and in other regions have been insufficient.  The question of children who migrate alone is most of the time not tackled. This group is particularly vulnerable: first, they are children, second they are unaccompanied by someone who takes responsibility for them and third they are migrants. Specific provisions about migrant children are foreseen by most child rights instruments but their protection is often neglected by national or regional migration policies. Moreover the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) notably foresees that states must protect children wherever they are, regardless of their origin.

One of the factors that prevents effective protection at the regional level is the lack of collaboration and coordination between actors of the member states to implement protection measures in the region. The WAN Network was developed as a measure to palliate this lack.

Developing cooperation from three to fifteen countries

A pilot project was initiated in 2005-6 between Senegal, Mali and Guinea Bissau aiming to connect actors of these countries to reintegrate children transnationally. During the evaluation, the need for collaboration with other countries emerged. During this phase WAN linked state authorities to the process and developed a networking strategy by establishing collaborations with local actors to cover national territories. From this pilot project, the initiative extended to six other countries. In 2010, the member countries stated that movements of children concern the whole region and decided to set the objective of working with the 15 countries of ECOWAS. The vision was fully realized in 2013 and transnational reintegration of children and young migrants is now possible between all the countries of the region. 

WAN organisation

The approach is based on synergy and strengthening of existing resources - whether state, civil society or international - and their networking. The participatory approach of the program has been applied since the identification of needs and continues in the development and implementation of network activities.

In each country a partner NGO is in charge of coordinating activities and developing collaboration with the local actors. Every year the 15 concerned Ministries and civil society meet within a Steering Committee to discuss results and give an orientation to the Network and the ECOWAS Commission.

Each young migrant benefits from individual support and follow-up

The main activity of the network is the daily identification, protection and reintegration of vulnerable children and young migrants in their countries of origin or in third countries. The reintegration process follows an 8 step procedure beginning when the child is identified until the rehabilitation process is complete. An individual project of reintegration is defined with the youngster in line with his age and maturity. The project can be re/schooling, vocational training or the creation of an income generating activity according to available resources and specific needs. The young beneficiary is followed-up for two years. Up to now 5’000 children and young migrants have been supported.

Capacity building & advocacy
The networking between actors is possible thanks to the development of a common procedure based on harmonized standards developed by the initiative. This procedure enables quality care of children. Trainings are provided by ISS and partners to strengthen the capacities of the actors (NGOs, social services, law enforcement agencies etc.) with the aim of improving the quality care of children and young migrants. Expertise and facilitation is also provided to national and sub-regional entities (such as the Secretariat of the Mano River Union) to develop frameworks or policies that include protection of young migrants.

 Establishing collaboration beyond West Africa

WAN fills in a cooperation gap in West Africa by connecting the child protection systems of the region. The ambition of WAN is to remain a useful tool for West African countries by offering and strengthening a professional procedure enabling quality care, protection and reintegration of vulnerable young migrants. ISS currently seeks resources to extend the collaborations to other regions such as Central Africa, Maghreb and Europe to ensure effective protection of vulnerable migrants between regions of origin, transit and destination.

(1) WAN is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the European Commission and various private sponsors

​For more information, please visit
- the website of the West Africa Network for the protection of children and
- the website of the Swiss Foundation of the International Social Service:

Listen to Djibril Fall from the SSI to learn more about WAN