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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

Mining for Malnutrition?

Category: aid| child poverty

15 Jun 2014

micronutirent-powder-sachet-open-in-hand‘Superkid’, Millennium Development Goals, an Australian mining multi-national, power powder, open pit gold mining, malnutrition, the Hong Kong stock exchange and UNICEF. Since 10 June 2014 these seemingly disconnected ideas, actors and practices come together in a remarkably concrete form: a tiny sachet containing a micronutrient powder to be sprinkled on rice fed to Lao infants.

What is all this about? Since late 2011, the Australian headquartered and Hong Kong stock exchange listed multinational mining company MMG has been in a public-private partnership with UNICEF Laos and the Lao government. Child malnutrition has long been a development concern in Laos, where UNICEF reported in 2012 that ‘thirty-one per cent of children under 5 are underweight, and 48 per cent are stunted’, whilst further noting that ‘more than one third of deaths of children under 5 years old in developing countries, like the Lao people’s Democratic Republic, are attributable to it’. According to UNICEF, the problem isn’t so much one of no food or too little but one of overreliance on rice which provides a sufficient energy base yet not all the necessary nutrients.

Concerned that persisting high levels of child malnutrition will put reaching the Millennium Development Goal 4 on child survival at risk, the Lao government welcomes the ’1000 Days project’. In this project, the Lao Ministry of Health, Unicef Laos, MMG, PSI, and the Lao Women’s Union have partnered in order to distribute micro-nutrient sachets (branded ‘Superkid’) to families with children under 2 years of age at no cost to these families in three provinces in Laos.

MMG, which exploits open pit copper and gold mines in one of the concerned provinces (Savannakhet) has, according to Unicef, pledged US$1.38 million to the project. On its own website, MMG further details that ’the 1000 Day Project aims to reach an estimated 180,000 Lao children, aged 6 to 59 months, via the distribution of approximately 4 million micronutrient sachets, each containing important vitamins, zinc and other nutrients’. In addition, Unicef states that ‘additional sachets will be subsidized and made available to families with children under 5 years old’.

In line with wider trends in development practice, it is perfectly possible to contribute to this very concrete and highly localised public-private initiative in a rather remote part of the world from anywhere provided there is an internet connection and a credit card at hand. How this works? Through the Unicef-MMG ‘matched giving website‘! Its webpages explain that ‘every micronutrient powder gift purchased online will be matched by MMG, dollar for dollar, resulting in double the impact for children in need’. Donating $25 pays for 750 sachets; sufficient for 2 infants over a period of one year. However, since MMG doubles the amount (with a stated ceiling of $25,000), clicking the ‘pay button’ will ‘save’ four Lao infants for the price of two…

Despite the apparent simplicity of the intervention,  reading the various webpages reporting about the project there appears plenty of confusion and quite a few worrysome errors. Whilst Unicef mentions that the project will be rolled out in three Southern Lao provinces, MMG includes also a northern province (Phongsaly) among the three target provinces. Also, whereas Unicef mentions that MMG has pledged US$1.38 to the project on one of its webpages, it talks about 1.5 million on another site. There also appears something wrong with the maths. From the figures on the matched giving website we can deduce that a child needs a sachet a day. If so, how will 4 million sachets be sufficient to reach the estimated target population of 180,000 Lao children, as MMG explains, even if we were to limit ourselves to one year only (65 million appears a more realistic figure)?

Ultimately however, I guess the real issues aren’t in any of what I have listed above but in the simple observation that there might be something wrong more fundamentally if the same rural spaces that generate great wealth for some remain sites with high levels of child malnutrition for so many others.

posted by Roy Huijsmans



UntitledChildren, the university and the financial industry: these may seem awkward partners, yet nothing is less true at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In this and subsequent posts I will look at what is happening at Erasmus University Rotterdam and why this matters.

The Dutch ‘asset manager’ ROBECO is one of the partners of Erasmus University Rotterdam’s ‘scientific junction’ programme (in Dutch: ‘wetenschapsknooppunt‘). Through this programme, Erasmus University Rotterdam offers a range of activities to Dutch primary school students (and their teachers) with the aim of introducing them to science, research and the university. This includes bringing children to the university for specifically designed ‘children’s lectures’, researchers visiting primary schools, short scientific courses designed for primary school students, etc.

Children are part of a world that is increasingly financialising, and Dutch children are no exception. Children may also be seen as a perpetual demographic frontier of financial markets. In this sense the young are an important strategic terrain for both the reproduction and also expansion of financial markets. Hence, one should not be surprised to find that the financial industry has indeed a keen interest in reaching children (as also noted HERE).

What is happening here goes yet a step further. By cooperating with a publicly funded university in the name of science, ROBECO gains a degree of legitimacy for its financial practices precisely in a time the very system of which investment banking is an outcome and the very ethics and sustainability of such financial practices have come increasingly into question.

posted by Roy Huijsmans




Looking at this picture, the first impression that came to my mind was how sweet this boy is. Then I asked myself: Is this child work or child labor? And is the activity conducted by the child empowering and appropriate for the child? What does the existing literature in development and childhood studies has to say about this? What position would development practitioners/experts and Social Workers on the ground take? And what would this picture mean in the eyes of indigenous people residing in the locality where the picture is shot? And most importantly what would be the view of this child himself on this picture?

For me, I know it is impossible to say much about what is depicted here without understanding the social environment and the current situation of the child. Yet, the picture was posted on an open Facebook page without any story or caption attached. The Facebook page is called ‘Ethiopian Kids’ and uses the slogan ‘For Ethiopians who love their KIDS’. Its current membership stands at 13,764 members.

The picture seems popular. Since it was posted on 19th May 2014 it has received 195 ‘likes’ and 35 ‘shares’. It also received a total of eleven comments – yet, not a word in these comments about the questions I have raised, only words about the cuteness of the boy in the picture. In many ways this particular picture is representative of the other pictures posted on this Facebook page: members post pictures of children and comment on how lovely these children are. Whilst I share these sentiments, it glosses over many other issues and leaves me wondering what the children themselves would say about their pictures.

guest contribution by Fasil Nigussie Taye (PhD researcher in PER research programme at the ISS)


Despite an increasing number of notable exceptions, the field of youth studies remains dominated by research conducted in the Global North. The PhD thesis (entitled Growing Up and Being Young in an Indonesian Provincial Town ) by ISS alumnus Wenty Marina Minza (Population and Development programme 2003-04) makes thus a welcome contribution to the field.

Wenty holds a position at the Faculty of Psychology at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and her PhD research was carried out as part of the KITLV coordinated research project In Search of Middle Indonesia. The PhD work was conducted in the context of Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) of the University of Amsterdam with Prof Mario Rutten and Prof Ben White as promotors, and successfully defended on Wednesday 14th May 2014.

The thesis is centrally concerned with bringing together two main perspectives on youth. One is the so-called ‘growing up’ perspective which views youth through the lens of transitions in some key life domains (work, education, marriage) and underpins much research on youth by governments and nongovermental organisations (and dominates work on youth in the international development studies literature). The other is the so-called ‘being young’ perspective which underpins much research on youth cultures and aims to understand young people in their own right by focusing on their everyday, and at times subaltern, practices of being young.

The interplay between these two different dimensions of young people’s lives is studied through a focus on educated youth in the provincial city of Pontianak, West Kalimantan. To this end a total of 106 young people were interviewed (most of them university students) as well as a number of parents and other adult informants. Most of the research was conducted by employing in-depth qualitative interviews, however a survey (n=369) adds some important quantitative dimensions to the findings.

The thesis commences with a brief introduction which is followed by a literature review which discusses some main theoretical perspectives in the field of youth studies with much clarity. A next chapter introduces the research context (Pontianak, Indonesia), and also introduces a series of useful vernacular concepts concerning being young and growing up. This is followed by three empirical chapters. One on family expectations and cultures of educated youth, one on meaningful work and youth cultures of waiting and finally a chapter on courtship, explorations and long-term relationships. A concluding chapter revisits the research questions and draws out the main theoretical contributions of the study.

Observing that concerns about ‘being young’ and ‘growing up’ are often deeply intertwined in young people’s lives leads Minza to propose a ‘growing up while being young’ pattern and a ‘being young while growing up’ pattern. The latter she observes most clearly in the education domain. Whilst educational qualifications are considered crucial for social mobility and progressing in life, the space of the school provides ample scope for being young. Being a university student grants them the mahasiswa identity (literally ‘great student’), which is performed through particular styles of being young. Growing up whilst being young highlights how concerns such as finding a spouse and negotiating the many contradictions of education as a resources are important in order to realise a sense of social maturation and to live up to family and societal expectations. Whilst few young people realise the aspired civil service job, many do make a ‘transition to somewhere’ (rather than a transition to nowhere). Furthermore, the informal and at times menial jobs many of these educated youth obtain are not just that. For example, many of the young women may be overqualified for the work they do in shopping malls and possibly underpaid, yet these jobs also provide space for performing much aspired modern youthful identities. Another strength is that in teasing out the various ways being young and growing up interact, Minza illuminates how relations of gender and also ethnicity shape such dynamics.

Some work carried out as part of the PhD has already been published (see for example HERE) and hopefully more will follow.

posted by Roy Huijsmans


My encounter with a 14 year old German girl who combines full-time schooling with part-time work and who came to share her experience as part of the course ISS 4235: Young People and Work, has given me a new look into understanding work in young people’s lives. “So do you work?” I asked her. The whole class went silent. As I recollected myself I realised that this was because our 14 year old guest had just explained to us about her work as a tutor to fellow students and sports trainer. The silence made me realise that it is important to listen carefully to how children understand their own activities and be careful with imposing my own understanding of work.

The discussion with our young guest speaker also confirmed a few things about age-normativity. What is age and who defines it? Is it the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), Minimum Age Convention (ILO, 1973), the constitutions of national governments, communities or the individual? Whether it is coming straight from the supra-national to the individual level, the social context in which we find ourselves plays a great deal in defining this concept. “Would you allow your younger sister to work?” That was one of the questions posed by us. As we all paid close attention to her response, she replied “No, she is too young”.  My reaction was Ooh! Too young!” I was surprised and you will equally be if you got to know the age of our guest’s sister. She is 12 years (Just two years her junior). This small difference in chronological age contrasted sharply with the firmness with which our young guest dismissed the idea that her younger sister might start working. Apparently it is not just chronological age that underpins norms about young people’s involvement in work.

Did you know that students who combine school and work perform better in class in comparison to their colleagues who don’t? At least this is what our young guest speaker taught us and it indeed contrasts with the conventional understanding that work is detrimental to children’s educational performance (and attendance). Out of the 22 students in our young guest-speaker’s  class, only eight students work. And by far, the performance rate of these eight students outweighs the rest she reiterates. Perhaps though, here the particularity of the work also matters. Our young guest-speaker, as well as the other students in her class, was recruited by her teacher to provide some tutoring in physics and mathematics (for pay and on a structural basis) to students struggling with these subjects. This suggest that she was already doing well in school and arguably  the more you’re explaining mathematics and physics to someone, the deeper your understanding.

Whilst this suggest that work might be a form of education, our young guest speaker also raised some notes of caution. Combining school and work is not for everyone she claimed.  When asked if she would advise her friends who are not working to work, “It depends” she replied. Students who are allowed to work must prove to be capable of taking on ‘extra work’ and must desire to work.

A final part of the discussion that struck me was about the status of the money earned. Does it matter whether the money is coming from the parent or from the child’s hard earned money?  Well it does matter it seems, our young guest speaker elaborated on the importance of having earned the money herself: “I can save and do whatever I like. It’s my money”.

guest-contribution by Yenutien Kombian (Social Policy for Development major programme, ISS 2013-14).

downloadLeeds University advertises an interesting Research Fellow position to be working on the ‘Uganda strand’ of a research project entitled: ‘Intergenerational Justice, Consumption and Sustainability in Comparative Perspective’.

The position is fixed term from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2016 and this is the description:

You will be responsible for undertaking fieldwork for the AHRC funded INTERSECTION project, which involves comparative research in Uganda, China, and the UK. The project is a collaboration between the universities of Sheffield and Leeds, and involves academics from Geography (Sheffield and Leeds), Workshop Theatre/School of English and East Asian Studies (Sheffield). You will have particular responsibility for data collection in Uganda, and will be expected to spend up to 9 months in that country, although you will also contribute to wider aspects of project literature review, research design, dissemination and other project activities. You will also make some contributions to fieldwork in the UK to harmonise working practices amongst the team.

The project involves an integrated multi-method approach including narrative interviewing (individual and group), surveys and the use of arts-based methodologies, particularly theatre as a research method. You will engage effectively with the diverse methodologies and participate in theatre based workshops and training, as well as work with local facilitators in Uganda. You will work in an intergenerational context, involving people of diverse ages, and make links with key stakeholders/policy makers.

You will have a PhD or equivalent postdoctoral research experience in a relevant academic field (e.g. Cultural Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Politics or other relevant field). You will have experience of conducting in-depth qualitative interviews and/or focus groups about sensitive issues, and an ability to execute these in an East African context. Knowledge of Uganda would be an advantage and some knowledge of a Ugandan language extremely useful. You will carry out periods of intense field work in Uganda for up to nine months. You will also be required to carry out occasional evening and/or weekend working, and possibly attend residential national and international conferences and dissemination events.

The University of Leeds’ commitment to women in science has been recognised with a national accolade. The University has received the Athena Swan Bronze Award in recognition of our success in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET). The Faculty of Environment are in the process of preparing an application for an Athena Swan award to recognise our commitment and work in these areas.

University Grade 7 (£30,728 – £36,661 p.a.)

Informal enquiries may be made to Dr Robert Vanderbeck, tel +44 (0)113 343 6753, emailr.vanderbeck@leeds.ac.uk<mailto:r.vanderbeck@leeds.ac.uk> or to Professor Jane Plastow, emailj.e.plastow@leeds.ac.uk<mailto:j.e.plastow@leeds.ac.uk>.

Closing Date: 8 June 2014


Development Dialogue

Category: conferences

24 Apr 2014

RTEmagicC_Logo_ISS-ANG-BUR-STE.jpgThe Development Dialogue is an annual conference organised by the ISS PhD community. The organisers welcome contributions related to this year’s conference theme ‘Rethinking Democracy: Challenges for global and local governance’.

The ISS is home to a vibrant research community comprised of faculty and MA/PhD students working on issues concerning children and youth in the context of development (see for example a recent ISS- hosted event on ‘Youth Research and Development‘). In that light we very much welcome contributions that approach the theme of ‘Rethinking democracy’ through the lens of children and youth (studies).

For further details on the 12th Development Dialogue watch THIS space or contact the organisers through: dd12@iss.nl


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.

  • SHipra Saxena: Hi... Can I please get an access to the paper, I am unable to download it. My email id is shiprasaxe [...]
  • Shane Powell: Kind thanks for your interest in this project. As posted to yours and other's comments on LaoFab, pl [...]
  • Degwale Gebeyehu belay: When I look at this picture, I start to remember my childhood! It is real reflection of a child in r [...]
  • yenutien: Thanks Fasil. One cannot deny the fact that the boy is cute! And I won't blame all the comments, sha [...]
  • Irene: The article offers an interesting insight into how pervasive the social construction of age is, how [...]