The gate is closed, the gate is open....

A "gate" is something that draws a barrier which could have different and sometimes opposite meanings and purposes. It could be an element that protects an individual from the outside world; but it could also be something that encloses, preventing an individual from feeling safe. It could constrain in one place or hinder access to another place. It could be perceived as a defence, as a threat, as an opportunity or as a means of exclusion.

In the past years there has been an increasing attention around the phenomena related with trafficking in human beings, especially when they involve children. The international definition of human trafficking since the signing of the Palermo Protocol in 2000, has stimulated an array of activities in the field of law-making, criminal justice and recovery actions addressed to victims.

In many cases the overall approach to trafficking tended to focus on prosecution and related criminal aspects of the problem, and less on the structural conditions that make the perpetration of these crimes possible.  Far from denying the importance of repressive activities around trafficking, the present initiative attempted to adopt a wider perspective by including other determining interrelated factors within the analysis and system of actions concerning trafficking.

In this wider perspective, the GATE initiative has attempted to overcome the predominant model which has developed in the last years, with its narrative centred around the stereotypical triad victim-aggressor-saviour. This rigid model failed to consider the complexity of the phenomena involved and diverted attention from  the various contextual elements that determine the levels of vulnerability and risk to which specific migrant groups are exposed.

In the present situation the GATE is represented by the policies of exclusion which are being carried out towards those persons who are reaching Europe from different countries around the world.

Children are among such groups of excluded people. Guardianship and protection systems show a high degree of diversity in terms of definition, legislation and practices while, in many instances, significant incoherence and sometimes a real conflict emerges between welfare and protection policies addressed to separated children on the one hand, and migration and border policies and strategies on the other. This heterogeneous situation is often coupled by a critical lack of competences and capacities of those who are deemed to decide who must get in and out of the gate.

Taking as a starting point the Convention on the Rights of the Child  ratified by all European Member States, with its assumption that the best interest of children should be considered before any other logic or interest, we can assert that every child, no matter what his or her nationality is, should be fully included in the welfare and protection system of any European Member State. Since this inclusion represents the essential condition for any protection strategy or policy, the real problem, beyond and before a specific attention on the dynamics of trafficking, will be then to understand when and how the systems are sufficiently inclusive and flexible to determine a coherent level of safeguard and protection.


The GATE initiative considers the life and migratory experience of children  as a crucial dimension to orient responses and practices. By assuming this angle, the central role of the child as a primary actor and informant in shaping strategies and determining a higher level of matching between needs and responses, is considered of primary importance to re-address practices and strengthen their protective functions.

Using once more our gate metaphor, up to what extent the gate is open and inclusive to determine an adequate level of protection for migrant children coming to Europe? 

In order to answer this question the initiative tried to reconnect the issue of protection with those crucial factors which continue to shape migration as a sociological phenomenon and as a human experience, namely citizenship, recognition, poverty,  social exclusion. These are also core factors which surely influence the level of risk of separated children to trafficking and exploitation.

The problem of enhancing the capacities of the guardianship system and guardians against trafficking, according to this approach, is proportional to the willingness and the capacities of these institutions and actors to adopt this perspective. In fact the possibility for the guardian not to be conceived just in a role of mediation between the child and the institutions but as a person who stands on the side of the child and actively promotes his/her inclusion and rights in the protection system, is the necessary condition for an effective protection of migrant unaccompanied minors.

The research process implemented in Greece, Italy, Cyprus and the Netherlands attempted to verify the level of inclusion/exclusion of the various national welfare and protection systems, their appropriateness and effectiveness in responding to children needs and rights while analyzing the compliance of policies, strategies and actions with the principles and the provisions imposed by international human rights legislation. The research hypothesis considered attention to the above said aspects as essential to determine what a guardian should be and do in order to protect children from trafficking and exploitation.

This "simple" approach tried to overcome a limiting and restricted vision of trafficking by undertaking the "rear door". In attempting this, vulnerability was viewed as something pertaining not to some peculiar characteristics of an individual, but to the nature and quality of relations existing between the individual and the surrounding context.  It is this very context with its opportunities, or lack of opportunities, that will determine the possibility to translate into real and effective action the protection rights to which every child is entitled.

In fact an "healthy" and welcoming context should be considered the core dimension to protect children against trafficking and exploitation. Any other specific strategy to fight the criminal phenomena and tackle the risk factors should be based and related with  a systemic analysis aimed at identifying which are the conditions that make this phenomena possible.

Guardianship and guardians embody the core responsibilities in helping to keep the gate open and functioning. But any gate, to be solid and to function properly, should be conceived of as a mechanism composed by interconnected elements.  This materialistic image has the advantage to convey the idea that any protective strategy should rely on the system as a whole. Again, the positive/inclusive or negative/exclusive use of this gate depends very much on the capacity to understand how and when this gate should be open and when it should be closed.

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