Early View Article - Children & Migration: Political Constructions and Contestations

Children & Migration: Political Constructions and Contestations

This article demonstrates the importance of paying attention to the roles children and childhood play in policy making relating to migration, especially since the outcomes of these debates have serious implications for children and for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers of all ages. The article considers a case study examining political representations of migrant, asylum seeker, and refugee children from 2015 to 2016 in the United Kingdom Parliament. Applying discourse analysis to Hansard records, the article demonstrates how across significant political differences, policy makers come together in painting children as victims in need of urgent protection while situating themselves and the UK as best placed to determine how to provide this security to the children in question – historically, currently, and in the future. In doing so, policy makers contribute to inaccurate essentialisations of children, and simultaneously situate the UK as a global protector of children, even when limited agreement on policy approaches exists.

Policy Implications

  • Policy measures seeking to help migrants should recognise that children are a significant portion of migrants and therefore include attention to children’s unique needs, while recognising the range of complex, diverse experiences children have of migration.
  • Migration policies should not be based on stereotypical assumptions about particular groups of migrants, including children.
  • More attention is needed to consulting and considering the evidence base from existing research when crafting and implementing policies concerning children and migration.
  • Migration policies relating to children should not focus exclusively on protection at the expense of adequate consideration of other crucial elements, including participation and provision.
  • While emotion-laden, simplified images drawing on common stereotypes of children as victims may seem a quick, effective way to bolster support for a given policy, policy makers seeking to enhance children’s security need to recognise that such representations may function to exclude important considerations of children’s views, participation, and needs.
  • Policy makers addressing issues of concern for migrant children should be mindful of avoiding negative stereotypes of the children’s parents, which can contribute to ‘othering’ these children as well as their parents and countries of origin, likewise bolstering problematic assumptions based on colonial thinking.


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