» Archive for category: ‘migration

‘Moving Children’

Category: migration| orphans| OVC

15 Feb 2016


Contemporary debates on children’s involvement in migration mostly pay little attention to historical instances of child movement (see also HERE). An upcoming event hosted by the University of Leeds goes some way in addressing this concern.

The event is entitled ‘Moving Children: The history of child removal in comparative perspective’ and will take place on 8 and 9 April 2016. The Call for Papers states as a central objective: ‘By illuminating continuity and change in the practice and ideology of child removal across the twentieth century, our goal is to shed comparative light on the historical experience of child removal in order to better understand the relationship between interventions into family life in the present and the past.’

One of key note speakers, Christina Firpo, presented an early version of her work in the ISS research in progress series. The full programme is pasted below.


Friday 8 April

9.30    Coffee and welcome

9.45    Opening remarks

10.00  Key note lecture:  Shurlee Swain: Race and Removal


11.30  Panel One: The Nineteenth Century

Claudia Soares (University of Manchester)

Agency, resistance and co-operation: families’ attitudes towards and experiences of child removal policies and practices in the nineteenth-century


Steven J. Taylor (University of Huddersfield)

British Children, Canadian Adults: Childhood Emigration to Canada in the Late-Nineteenth Century


12.30  Lunch

2.00    Panel Two: The Interwar Years

Mariena Hirschberg (European University Institute, Florence, Italy)
Philanthropy and problem families: The Child Emigration Society in the interwar years.

Will Jackson (University of Leeds)
Moving children: race, emotion and the politics of child removal in Cape Town, 1919-1939

Emily Baughan (University of Bristol)
“A Child to Keep For A Dollar A Week: International Adoption and Interwar Diplomacy, c. 1918-1925”

4.00      Roundtable: Understanding children – now and then

5.00      Drinks



Saturday 9 April

10.00  Panel Three: The Second World War and after

Lucy Bland (Anglia Ruskin)
‘Race and Nationhood post World War II: disputing the sending of mixed race GI offspring to the US
Verena Buser (University of Applied Sciences, Berlin)

UNRRA as identity maker: Child Search after the Second World War


11.30  Coffee

12.00  Roundtable: The role of the state and the role of society

1.00    Lunch

2.00    Panel Four: Authoritarian regimes

Mirjam Galley (University of Sheffield)
Builders of Communism, ‘Defective’ Children, and Social Orphans: Soviet Children in Care

Peter Anderson (University of Leeds)
Good Parents and Bad Parents: child removal in Spain in the early twentieth century

Diana Marre (Autonomous University of Barcelona)
Moving and removing children in contemporary Spain


4.00    Keynote lecture: Christina Firpo: A Failure of Altruism: Métis Child Welfare Programs in Vietnam 1890-1975



5.30    Drinks


On Friday 15 January, 2016, Marina Korzenevica successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘Negotiating Life Chances: The lives of young people and socio-political change in rural eastern Nepal’.

Marina carried out her PhD at the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at Copenhagen University under the supervision of Jytte Agergaard.

Marina’s PhD thesis consists of four stand-alone articles (some of them already accepted for publication) usefully complemented by an introduction, a detailed context chapter, a field work chapter, a conceptual and theoretical chapter as well as a conclusion and epilogue. The thesis has grown out of a DANIDA funded research project entitled ‘Nepal on the Move: Conflict, migration and stability‘ and it stands out as it succeeds in bridging various fields of studies, including: youth studies, migration studies, household studies and Nepal studies.

Drawing on detailed ethnographic research in two remote settings in rural eastern Nepal the thesis is centrally concerned with how, through mobility, young people are negotiating their individual life chances and contribute to socio-political change in the context of post-conflict Nepal. The distinct focus on rural communities is an important contribution as most work on youth is typically urban-centred. In terms of gender, the thesis concentrates on both female and male youth. And more importantly, it unravels how cross-border migration of young men affects the mobility of young women – especially in relation to marriage. Another interesting feature of the study is the conceptualisation of cross-border labour migration as a form of ‘education’. This leads her to argue that despite young women’s increased educational attainment (increasingly, young women remain in school for longer than young men), it is young men’s educational capital (acquired through migration) that continues to be valued higher in everyday life.

Marina’s thesis was examined by Torben Birch-Thomsen (University of Copenhagen), Susan Thieme (Free University Berlin) and Roy Huijsmans (ISS).


Have attempts to ‘save’ migrant working children in the name of anti-trafficking actually amounted to making young migrants more vulnerable?

Last month, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Migration Out of Poverty development research centre at the University of Sussex hosted a roundtable entitled ‘Labour Trafficking? Understanding the use of brokers in women’s and girl’s labour migration in the Global South’.

The event built on the Development Research Centre’s work on ‘child migration‘, and their current focus on ‘migration, women and girls‘.

Speakers at the event included Dr Priya Deshingkar, Mike Dottridge, Dr Ligia Kiss, and Jonathan Blagbrough. Collectively, these speakers brought lots of different experiences and knowledges to the floor about the field of trafficking and anti-trafficking, including important observations on the making of human trafficking as one of the worst crimes requiring immediate intervention, as well as reflections on common approaches that seek to address the issue of human trafficking.

Important questions that were discussed include:

-What would it mean to take a children’s rights approach to human trafficking?

-What interests is the anti-trafficking discourse serving if not those of the young migrants?

-What does a safe migration approach mean, especially in relation to young people?

-Does the regularisation of migration offer any benefits to poor and young migrants, or does it merely render them vulnerable to rent-seeking and corrupt officials?

-Are blanket approaches based on the measure of chronological age that render all those below 18 years of age children, and subject them to projects that seek to restore lost childhoods sensible?

A video recording of the event can be viewed HERE.

posted by Roy Huijsmans


downloadOpen Democracy has opened a new section entitled ‘Beyond Trafficking and Slavery’.

Open Democracy is a digital commons that hosts a number of sections. Since a few months this includes a section entitled ‘Beyond Trafficking and Slavery‘ which is an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and researchers from Africa, Asia, America, Australia and Europe.

The editors envision the site ‘to be an alternative to the many ‘Modern-Day Slavery Hubs’ dotted across conventional media’. The site, thus, seeks to challenge ‘both the empty sensationalism of mainstream media accounts of exploitation and domination, and the hollow, technocratic policy responses promoted by businesses and politicians’. This will be done through ‘a regular stream of articles’ as well as a pedagogical section with short introductions to major issues and debates.

To date, the site features a number of interesting critical reflections by renowned academics. This includes an interview with Bridget Anderson, a reflective piece by Anne Gallagher on how the trafficking debate has evolved over the past two decades, and a contribution by Siobhan McGrath that critically reflects on the USA’s self-assigned role of global anti-trafficking monitor. No doubt more will follow.

posted by Roy Huijsmans



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 




vechta5-6 December 2013, colleagues at the University of Vechta, Germany organised an international conference on Childhood and Migration: Gendered and generational perspectives. The conference touched upon many forms and dimensions of children’s involvement in migration, both historically and contemporary, indicating that the theme of ‘children, childhood and migration’ has over the past decade rapidly developed into a vibrant and diverse research area.

Two ISS faculty were among the presenters. Kristen Cheney delivered a paper entitled Aids Orphanhood and the Transformation of Kinship, Fosterage, and Children’s Circulation Strategies in Uganda. Roy Huijsmans presented a paper entitled Children, Childhood and Migration: Some critical thoughts. Here is the abstract:

Limiting myself to the development literature, I first ask why it is that the issue of ‘independent child migration’ emerged as a specific field in the early 2000s even though the phenomenon itself was hardly new. I concur that its original concern was a critique to the hegemony of the child trafficking discourse, with trafficking understood as a form of boundary management within development studies’ ‘migration turn’ working to construct ‘bad’ forms and categories of mobility as separate from ‘good’ forms/categories of migration.

The ‘independent child migration’ research agenda that thus emerged may be summarised as: demonstrating young migrants’ as actors in migration; highlighting that staying is often not a desirable option’; deconstructing the trafficking discourse; and reconstruction the phenomenon of mobile children as a migration issue with exploitation instead of children’s mobility as the target for intervention. Although this research agenda generated some important insights and has affected interventions, I argue that after a decade this research agenda is in need of reflection.

Here I limit myself to three points. First, the phrase ‘independent child migration’ effectively amounted to a further compartmentalisation of migration (despite this being a point of critique in general migration studies). Such a categorising approach tends to hinder rather than deepen a situated understanding of young people in migration. The latter would require attending to relational dimensions, by for example concentrating on the role of ‘migration networks’ and the role of various conceptualisations of age shaping young people’s inclusion in the migratory landscape. Second, a relational approach is necessary for moving away from an exclusive concern with ‘critique’ based on deconstruction-based analyses towards constructive analyses that would ask how young people’s migrations shed light on broader questions in children and youth studies. This would include debates on: life course dynamics, young people and state, transnationalism, global householding, etc. Thirdly, the focus on ‘independent child migration’ has kept out of focus the largest group affected by migration: those that are not (yet) moving. A focus on the young offers much scope for teasing out the interrelation between staying and moving in migration research. 


Double Standards

Category: migration

17 Jun 2013



In practice, children with Dutch nationality are primarily subject to family law (‘familie recht’), children with a refugee status are primarily subject to immigration law (‘vreemdelingenrecht’). The former is informed by children’s rights considerations, the latter not.

This practice of ‘double standards’ was one of the main concerns raised by several speakers in a debate (see picture) about children in families that are repatriated (forced and ‘voluntary’)  by the Dutch ‘Dienst Terugkeer & Vertrek‘ (‘Repatriation and Departure Service’ of the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice)  because they are not (or no longer) granted the right of residence in the Netherlands. The debate was co-organised this afternoon by Humanity House and the Dutch public broadcasting organisation VARA, ahead of the broadcasting on Dutch national television of a four-part documentary on the subject starting 26th June (entitled ‘Uitgezet’).


The numbers are significant. Since 2007 a total of 2650 children are repatriated by Dutch authorities of which 1429 under socalled ‘voluntary’ conditions. This includes repatriation to countries that are far from peaceful such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. The documentary makers argued that for many of these children a return to their ‘native country’ is traumatic. In fact, the notion of ‘native country’ is problematic as some of these children are, in fact, born in the Netherlands and had never seen the place to which they were ‘repatriated’.

Some children may be exempted from repatriation if they apply for and qualify for the so-called ‘Kinderpardon’. One of the eligibility criteria, is to have filed a request for asylum at least five years ago. For sure, one speaker stated, for those children repatriation is most probably going to be experienced as uprooting and traumatic. Yet, this is not to say that this is not equally the case for children who have been in the Netherlands for less than five years and are thus not eligible for exemption.

In a world of deep inequalities and conflict, migration regimes like that in the Netherlands are constantly put to the test and the idea that somehow migration can be ‘managed’ in an unarbitrary and humane manner must be an illusion. In fact, today’s debaters were pointing with their feet at one of the main contradictions underpinning the issue. A system that allows carpets (see top picture) to travel freely but severely restricts the movement of most people making these carpets is ridden with double standards.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

posted by Roy Huijsmans

A special issue on ‘Independent Child Migration’ that appeared in the journal New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development was launched yesterday in a seminar series hosted by the Centre for Refugee Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada.

The volume includes seven papers, dealing with child migration in a range of contexts. This includes analysis of legal cases concerning child asylum seekers in Canada, young people and networks of migration in rural Laos (available HERE), work on separated minors in Sweden, and much more.

Two central themes running through all papers is that of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘agency’. The diverse papers show how ‘vulnerability’ and ‘agency’ are not mutually exclusive and offer perspectives on how these concepts work in practice and can be theoretically integrated.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

The phenomenon of children and youth as migrants has been on policy and scholarly agendas for some time now. And much good quality research has become available on the topic. The Child Migration Research Network (hosted by the University of Sussex) provides a good overview of people working on the theme and relevant publications. However, its focus is on English language work.

A recently launched website hosted by the University of Zaragoza, Aragón, entiteld ‘Minors and Migration: Childhood, Migration and Transnationalism‘ is bilingual (Spanish and English) and provides useful links to various Spanish language work on minors and migration.


posted by Roy Huijsmans

Following a decade of ‘anti-trafficking’ programming the international organisation Terre des Hommes (TdH) makes a remarkable move. Its newly launched international campaign ‘Destination Unknown‘ shifts the programmatic focus away from anti-trafficking and towards the ‘protection of children on the move’.

The launch of the new campaign is accompanied by an interesting publication, entitled ‘Beyond a Snapshot: Learning lessons from the Terre de Hommes International Campaing against child trafficking (2001-2011)‘.

Here an excerpt from p.13:

At the beginning of the campaign, the issue of child trafficking appeared relatively straightforward. Crimes were being committed against children, which were going largely unnoticed, so governments needed lobbying to persuade them to take action. As the years went by, however, the complexity of the issue became more obvious, along with the risk that certain messages linked to the campaign could have unexpected or even counter-productive effects for children. It also became clearer that trafficking cases represented an extreme along a continuum involving children who moved from one place to another…so, measures to prevent trafficking needed to be supplemented by a range of other measures to protect unaccompanied children and other children who had left home, whether they remained in their country or went abroad.


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.