» Archive for: August, 2014

downloadA recently issued report of a qualitative research project sheds important light on the living conditions and well-being of undocumented migrant children in the Netherlands, but also raises some questions about researching this group of children.

In May 2014, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Defence for Children, and the ‘Stichting Landelijk Ongedocumenteerden Steunpunt‘ issued a report detailing the findings of a collaborative research project into the living conditions and well-being of undocumented children in four Dutch cities (Utrecht, Rotterdam, Den Haag, Amsterdam). The study was designed to address the following questions:

What is the number of undocumented children in the Netherlands (and particularly in the city of Utrecht)?

How do these children experience their housing and living conditions?

To what extent are the conditions for child development ensured among the research population?

What recommendations may be drawn for municipality level policies to ensure the conditions for child development among this research population?

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the research population the first question is not answered conclusively. Still, this section makes an interesting read about the various dilemmas encountered in attempts to quantify the research population (for example, schools or other institutions may not be willing to share such sensitive data) as well as on the methods by which some other organisations nonetheless produce numbers, whilst also making one wonder about the apparent desire to quantify even in situations where this is inherently difficult, if not impossible.

The other research questions are addressed on the basis of semi-structured interviews with a total of 29 undocumented migrant children (from 27 different households). Key findings include the poverty in which many of these children live, resulting in, for example, little varied and at times unhealthy diets. Poverty also characterised the housing conditions, with children often sharing one room with their parents. Many of the children also frequently moved house. All the interviewed children attend school, and accessing basic health services (GP) appeared in most cases possible. Nonetheless, many children experienced stress related to their undocumented status with all due consequences. The research further found a fairly tight safety net around these children comprising of teachers, social workers, neighbours, etc. These networks functioned as an important source of support (e.g. gifts) and also worked in a protective manner as the research team found it hard to convince such ‘gatekeepers’ to have these undocumented migrant children participate in the research.

Despite the importance of making visible the well-being and living conditions of this group of children, the methodology used also raises some questions. First, whilst on the one hand this group of children is considered ‘vulnerable’ all interviews were conducted by students (fourth year students in relevant programmes). The report includes a note (p9) on the deep impact this research work has made on the concerned students yet fails to engage with the ethics of delegating the fieldwork component to relatively inexperienced (and no doubt cheap) field researchers. A good argument for involving students in the research would have been to broaden the language range of the research team (allowing for interviews in children’s first language in case this is not Dutch). However, this seems a road not taken as children with insufficient Dutch language skills were excluded from the research – a rather strange practice in researching undocumented migrants. Lastly, the young respondents were accessed through the networks of the Dutch foundation (‘stichting’) that collaborated in the research. As the report rightly notes (p29), this means that possibly a rather large group of undocumented migrants have remained invisible to the research team. However, I would add that this may also have affected the sample as it may possibly have excluded undocumented migrant children not attending school or with greater difficulties accessing basic health services. Furthermore, it also means one of the key findings (the presence of a safety net) needs some further qualification as this may not necessarily apply to many other undocumented migrant children in the Netherlands.

posted by Roy Huijsmans 




UntitledIn a previous post I have commented on the academic platform Erasmus University Rotterdam offers to the financial industry in a university course specifically designed for Dutch primary school children. In this post I will take a look at the exercise book that the participating children get to use as part of the programme (see cover page above).

The cover page and the title (‘Beleggen: een goed belegde boterham’) leaves no doubt about the overall message of the course material: financial investment pays – in fact it pays very well! Yet, a discursive reading of the exercise book reveals another message: financial investment doesn’t only pay, not doing it is foolish.

How is this second message delivered? The first chapter on ‘money’ asks participants some general questions about their financial situation: do you have money? If so, what is the source of income, what do you do with it, and do you save? This is followed by a second chapter with the title: ‘Spending or saving?’. In this chapter simply putting money aside, instead of putting it into a savings account, is presented as not very financial-savvy as there is no interest earned. This message is given further weight in chapter 3 on ‘inflation’, which makes students realise through a range of simple calculations that the purchasing power of their Euros diminishes overtime. This leads to the question of ‘whether there are ways to earn money whilst saving’ (p.11). The answer to this question is presented in chapter 4 on ‘financial investment’ and is further explored in a number of chapters that follow.

The conclusion that is presented to the participating primary school students is that financial investments make much sense (because it is profitable) if you have spare money. It is also acknowledged that losses may be incurred but that’s ultimately not a real danger because ‘risks’ are presented as manageable and knowable.

This narrative, however, is based on a number of silences. What, then, are the questions that are muted? I note here two main ones: first, there is the unquestioned idea that money must make more money – it must be made profitable. Another important silence is found in the chapter on inflation which is presented as a natural phenomenon which silences any question about its why’s and how’s.

If universities are places to exchange ideas, further knowledge and question what we know and how we know this then such silencing is deeply problematic, particularly if the larger aim of the project is to introduce primary school students to the university.




Gammy with his surrogate mother

Gammy with his surrogate mother

The evolving case of Baby Gammy – a child who was born to an Australian couple through a Thai commercial surrogate but was allegedly abandoned by the commissioning parents when they learned he had Downs Syndrome – has sparked international debate about the ethics and legalities of international surrogacy arrangements.

These are just the kinds of issues that will be debated next week as the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) hosts an International Forum on Intercountry Adoption and Surrogacy.

Nearly one hundred scholars, activists, and policymakers from 27 different countries will come together to discuss ways to improve international standards around the evolving practices of cross-border adoption and surrogacy, in which children typically move from poorer to wealthier countries.

The Forum takes place ahead of the next Special Commission of the Hague Conference’s Convention on Intercountry Adoption in spring 2015 which will discuss the ongoing concerns about intercountry adoption in light of patterns of fraud and ‘failed’ adoptions. The Hague Conference has also issued a report on surrogacy, expressing concerns over the exploitation of women and the status of children born under international surrogacy arrangements.

With its aim of providing an evidence base for international adoption and surrogacy problems and/or best practices, the Forum will consist of plenary discussions and sessions on crosscutting themes pertinent to the Special Commission. These include children’s best interests, families and countries of origin, and issues of fraud and coercion.

Forum keynotes and plenaries will be live streamed at iss.nl/live throughout the 3 days of the Forum, 11-13 August. Proceedings will be published on the ISS website in November. For more information, go to www.iss.nl/adoption_surrogacy

International Institute of Social Studies

ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.