» Archive for: February, 2013

by Roy Huijsmans

Last month the Hindu reported that the sixth person accused in the widely reported Delhi gangrape of 16th December last year has been declared a ‘minor’ by the Indian Juvenile Justice Board which, the Hindu reports, based its assessment on ‘school enrolment records’.

Even though the accused will turn 18 in June 2013, and some media have described the minor as the most savage of the attackers, the age assessment turns it into a case of juvenile justice. Child rights lawyer, Anant Asthana, explains the implications:

“If his offence is established during the inquiry, even if he becomes a major, one of the options before the Board is to keep him in a place of safety for a maximum period of three years for his reformation and mainstreaming.” (source)

Since the gangrape refuelled a debate on harsher sentences on cases of sexual assault, including the death penalty, the declaration of one of the accused as a minor has met with significant resistance.

However, there are also voices defending the age criteria for juvenile justice. For example, the Justice J.S. Verma Committee report on ‘Amendments to Criminal Law’ argues that:

“… We cannot hold the child responsible for a crime before first providing to him/her the basic rights given to him by the Indian Constitution.’’ (source)

Whilst this argument seems to apply to the case discussed here, because the accused minor is said to come from a poor family and been described as a (former) child labourer, and even as a victim of trafficking, the question remains whether the opposite, then, also holds. In other words should minors whose basic rights have been met not be judged by juvenile criminal law?

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Drawing on a 2012 SCP publication on poverty in the Netherlands, the Dutch ‘Children’s Ombudsman’ has now launched an online platform inviting children (especially) and adults to share their experiences of poverty in the Netherlands by answering a list of questions.

The aim of this initiative is to learn more about child poverty in the Netherlands since 2011 statistics show that nearly one in ten children (0-17 years) in the Netherlands live in poverty, and that the total number of children living in poverty has grown with 57,000 children (to a total of 359,000) from 2010 to 2011. Importantly, the statistics use the household as the unit of analysis which excludes the possibility of ‘child poverty’ in households above the income thresshold. This thresshold is Euro 960 per month for a single adult, which is adjusted for household composition (a distinction is made between a two-parent and single-parent households and between childless and households with children (up to three)). It also assumes that ‘poverty’ is shared equally among all members of the household – something which, of course, has long been contested in development studies.

Despite the valid concern about an apparent rise in poverty in the Netherlands, figures are still below 1994 when 8.6% of the Dutch population was considered poor (7.6% in 2011). The 2011 figures show, however, interesting generational variation:

Children are overrepresented in poverty statistics, people in their fifties are underrepresented, and those over 65 have the lowest risk of poverty.

When it comes to children (0-17) specifically some important patterns are identified:

One third of the children living in poverty are from ‘non-Dutch decent’. Poverty is considerably higher in single-parent households than in two-parent households and also more prominent in households with three or more children than in households with fewer children. Furthermore, children aged 8-10 are at greater risk of living in poverty than older or younger children. This said to be so since single-parent households are more common when children are 8-10 than at a younger age.

The online questionnaires launched by the Children’s Ombudsman pay particular attention to children’s subjective experiences of poverty as it includes questions like ‘how do you notice there is little money in your family?’ Attention to children’s subjective experiences of poverty has become quite common in development studies (see for example HERE), yet remains rare in the so-called developed world. Despite this useful innovation it remains to be seen of course whether children living in poverty (especially!) will actually be in a position to access this online survey and/or will know about it before it closes again in three weeks from now…



posted by Roy Huijsmans

Surveys among Dutch school-going teenagers (12-18 years) have long shown that combining full time education with part-time work is for many Dutch teenagers the norm.

The Dutch Central Office for Statistics (CBS) has now released findings concerning school-going youth (15-25 years), showing similar patterns. Between 2001 and 2011 the school-going population aged 15-25 has grown from 1.2 million to 1.5 million. In 2001 62% of the school-going youth were in paid work for at least 1 hour per week. In 2011 this has dropped to 57%. Interestingly, the decrease is found among school-going youth who were working 1-12 hours per week (from 37% of the school-going youth in 2001 to 33% in 2011) and among those working more than 35 hours per week (from 9% down to 6%). Between 2001 and 2011 the shares have actually slightly increased for school-going youth working 12-20 hours per week (up from 9 to 10%) and those working 20-35 hours per week (up from 8 to 9%).

It is further worth noting that between 2001 and 2011 a shift can be observed from the majority of school-going youth employed on the basis of ‘permanent contracts’ (2001) to the majority of youth employed on the basis of flexible arrangements (2011). Self-employment has grown among school-going youth but remains very small.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

UNFPA has published, what they call a ‘status report‘ on adolescents and young people in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report is based on the much criticised idea of ‘youth transitions’ (see for example HERE). This is made clear on p. 4 where it states that:

Young people are experiencing a time of transition, full of physical, psychological, emotional and economic changes as they leave childhood and enter adulthood. The decisions that are made during this period of life affect not only the individual wellbeing of young people, but also the wellbeing of entire societies. Ensuring that young people can successfully navigate this phase of life will help break the cycle of poverty and produce benefits for individuals, communities and nations.

Reporting the ‘status’ of adolescents and youth in the Sub-Saharan countries is then effectively an assessement of how well these countries have performed against a number of normative thressholds measured on a national scale. For easy reading UNFPA uses colour coding on an interactive map, with ‘red’ identifying ‘countries that need to take immediate action to address a particular indicator’, ‘yellow’ to denote ‘countries that are making progress…but may need additional investments’, and ‘green’ to for ‘countries that are making exceptional progress’. 

One of the normative indicators is the ‘age at first sex‘ (the median age by which one half of young people aged 15-24 have had penetrative sex). Leaving questions about the reliability of such data aside for the moment, these interactive maps effectively turn the map of Sub-Saharan Africa into a topographic landscape of different degrees of ‘problems’ and ‘progress’. What is erased in the interactive exercise are important questions of who has defined the criteria of what is considered ‘problem’ and ‘progress’? for whom? and is what matters the age of first sex or the conditions and sets of relationships in which this takes place?

posted by Roy Huijsmans

In their recent article in Journal of Sociology entitled Beyond the ‘Transitions’ Metaphor, Johanna Wyn, Sarah Lantz and Anita Harris report on findings from research on attitudes towards and practices of civic and political engagement of young people (15-18 years) in Victoria, Australia.

In the present day, when much is made of the importance of the internet in relation to youth the following finding is worth flagging: Only 40% of the total 970 young people surveyed claimed that ‘online forums’ were places where they felt they could ‘have a say’. In comparison, 95% felt this was the case with friends, 89% referred to their family, 83% to their classroom, 76% to school and 44% to work. In addition, only 36% of the surveyed young people wished for a lot ‘more of a say’ in online forums. Only, the wish to have a lot more of a say in their electorate in which they lived ranked lower (35%).

Perhaps less surprising but worth flagging are the findings with whom the surveyed youth discuss social and political issues. ‘Parents’ ranked top of the list (58%) followed by friends (56%), in class (56%), other family members (44%), with no one else (29%), someone in the community (20%), and only then ‘online’ (20%).

Whilst the internet is no doubt an important space for young people, and may offer new possibilities for political participation, these findings remind us that, at least in the Australian context, the internet does not derive its popularity from its political potential, and neither is it necessarily a more important, or the only, space for political engagement of youth.


posted by Roy Huijsmans

The ‘Report on the National Child Labour Survey 2010 of Lao PDR‘ which was published in 2012 is now publicly available. The report contains a curious section entitled ‘Trafficking of Children’ (p119-123). This section is based on a special module that is included in the questionnaire called ‘Module X: Trafficking module’ (p171-173). This is basically a list of questions inquiring about current and past migrations related to work by household members less than 25 years of age.

The first curiosity is the statement that ‘as the age or sex of these persons [covered by the ‘Trafficking module’] has not been made a part of this module, it is not possible to estimate how many of them were younger than 18 years old’ (p 120). Although this is strange, particularly given the importance definitions of trafficking attribute to the age of 18, it is even stranger to see this error applies only to half of the questions in the ‘Trafficking module’. In the design of  the questionnaire, the interviewer is asked halfway (Q14) to link the Trafficking module back to the household survey data, which then allows disaggregating by age and gender for the analysis of the subsequent results.

The second curiosity is that the questions in the ‘Trafficking module’ are effectively about migration. No surprise then that the section entitled ‘Trafficking of children’ speaks about ‘migration’ only and does not mention the term ‘trafficking’ even once. This serves to show that organisations like the ILO still have a long way to go in figuring out, in relation to those below 18 years of age, how to conceptualise trafficking in a manner that makes it in distinct from migration in such research exercises.


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