Legal representation of unaccompanied children


Country Report: Legal representation of unaccompanied children Last updated: 30/11/20


The guardianship system in Spain is governed by the Spanish Civil Code, which establishes the conditions and defines the actions foreseen in the following different situations: measures in situations of risk, measures in situations of homelessness/distress, guardianship and family reception. The competence of minors’ protection departments corresponds to the Autonomous Community or city which is responsible for the appointment of a legal guardian to its public entity of children protection. The process of guardianship starts with the Declaration of Abandonment (Declaración de Desamparo) by the Autonomous Communities, which is the declaration of the homelessness/helplessness of the minor, and represents the first step not only for undertaking the guardianship of the child but also to guarantee his or her access to the minors’ protection system and services. This procedure has different durations depending on the Autonomous Community in which it is requested, but a maximum time limit of three months must be respected for the assumption of the guardianship by the public entity of protection of minors, as set by the Protocol.[1]

After the declaration of Desamparo, the public administration grants the guardianship and the minor is provided with clothing, food and accommodation. Guardianship is usually left to entities such as NGOs or religious institutions which are financed by Minors’ Protections Services. It implies the responsibility of protecting and promoting the child’s best interests, guaranteeing the minor’s access to education and proper training, legal assistance or interpretation services when necessary, enabling the child’s social insertion and providing him or her with adequate care. Concerning the specific issues of asylum applications, the Protocol states that the guardians will take care of providing the minor with all needed information and guaranteeing him or her access to the procedure.

Shortcomings and problems have been raised concerning the guardianship systems for unaccompanied minors, and mostly with regard to the excessively long duration of the procedures for issuing an identification document when children are undocumented. Moreover, serious concerns have been reported regarding children who have been under the guardianship of the Autonomous Communities and are evicted from protection centres once they turn 18 even if they have not been documented or have not yet received a residence permit. In these cases, children are left in streets, homeless and undocumented.

Concerning the right to apply for asylum, Article 47 of the Asylum Act establishes that unaccompanied children shall be referred to the competent authorities on children protection. In addition to this provision, the National Protocol on unaccompanied children makes specific reference to the cases of children in need of international protection, with the aim of coordinating the actions of all involved actors and guarantee access to protection.

Nevertheless, it should be highlighted that there are very few asylum applications made by unaccompanied children. In 2016, the Government communicated that in the last 5 years, 101 asylum claims had been made by unaccompanied children in 2011-2016, 28 of which were registered in 2016.[2] A total of 31 unaccompanied children were granted protection in those five years. In 2018, a total of 77 unaccompanied children applied for international protection.[3]

Given the increasing numbers of arrivals in Spain, the low numbers on unaccompanied children seeking asylum highlight the existence of shortcomings concerning their access to protection. This is mostly due to the lack of provision of information on international protection within the minors’ protection systems of the Autonomous Communities.


[1]Chapter VII, para 1(2) Protocol on Unaccompanied Minors.

[2] Senate, Response of the Government to Question 684/22616, 19 September 2017.

[3] OAR, Asilo en cifras 2018, available in Spanish at:


Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation