Analytical approach and objectives
In 2015, the shocking photograph of Alan Kurdi – one of the many Syrian child refugees who drowned whilst crossing the Mediterranean – drew public and political attention around the globe. The photo of his small, lifeless body became a symbol of the terrible human costs of the refugee crisis and helped raise awareness of the experiences of migrant children. As we write these words, news about the trauma migrant children experience in US Border Patrol detention facilities and the drama of their separation from family have flooded social media and triggered debates on migration, child protection, our humanity and how we treat people in need of protection. These contemporary debates echo those triggered more than seventy years ago by David Seymour’s (1949) Children of Europe photo series, commissioned by UNICEF and UNESCO in 1948, documenting children’s situation in the aftermath of the Second World War and the effects of the extreme hardships experienced during the conflict. Images of suffering bodies have been instrumental, especially with the advent of photography, in shaping perceptions and instigating debates (Kennedy and Patrick, 2014), such as those taking place in Europe at the moment.
Our primary aim in this volume is to bring about new ways of framing and understanding the challenges related to migration and childhood in Europe. Tensions have been rising at the European level and, over the last decades, we have witnessed an increase in negative attitudes towards immigration (Verkuyten et al., 2018; Hellwig and Sinno, 2017; Rustenbach, 2010). The European Union (EU) has been under enormous strain, and we have now reached a crisis point in the construction of European identity. As societies become more diverse, this implies opportunities and challenges, both for individuals and society as a whole. Children, the most resilient and vulnerable group of society, are the most affected. In a society marked by mobility, it is therefore of crucial interest to understand the forces that shape migrant children’s experiences and how they adapt and evolve.
Despite their important role in both society and families, we know surprisingly little about migrant children. They have traditionally been presented as figures on the margins, and scholars have focused mainly on adult migrants’ experiences. This is surprising, since we know that children experience events differently than adults (Wylegała, 2015), and taking their experiences into consideration offers an interesting lens through which to view our knowledge of the past (Fass, 2013; Saxton, 2012). Studying children’s experiences, therefore, enables us to look at and analyse events and societies from a novel perspective.
Another important perception we wish to challenge is the following: child migration is a recent problem. Child migration is not a new phenomenon, and our volume shows this by focusing on a variety of case studies of (international) child migration within, to and from Europe since the beginning of the twentieth century. By focusing on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, our volume shows how migrant childhoods have been culturally and historically constructed throughout time in a context marked, on the one hand, by a growing emphasis on the importance of childhood and, on the other, by significant (geo)political transformations. Acknowledging that childhood is a social construct embedded in changing historical contexts, we therefore chose not to adopt a definition of the terms ‘child’ or ‘childhood’. Instead, each author uses the term with the significance it had at each historical moment they are focusing on.
Children, however, were not only the ‘objects of policies designed for them, or subjects under perfect control but, at the very least, co-creators of everyday life who gave their own meaning to the policies affecting them by way of new practices’ (Venken and Röger, 2015, pp. 199–200). The idea of children’s agency, in many ways one of the most important theoretical developments in the recent history of childhood studies, entails viewing children as people worthy of study ‘in their own right and not just as receptacles of adult teaching’ (Hardman, 1973, p. 87). Children, therefore, are seen as people who, through their individual actions, can make a difference ‘to a relationship, a decision, to the workings of a set of social assumptions or constraints’ (Mayall, 2002, p. 21). This has, in turn, led to a reconceptualisation not only of childhood but also of the ways in which children themselves can be understood as active participants in society.
This volume also aims to help better understand not only the evolution of child migration (the factors that incite or limit human mobility), but also the forces that shape children’s lives and social experiences. Adopting ‘biopolitics’ as a theoretical framework, it considers child migrations from two different, but complementary, perspectives. On the one hand, it examines the interplay of structures, contexts and relations of power which influence the evolution of child migration. Several chapters explore the roles and rationales of various actors (e.g., states, organisations, institutions) in regulating the migration of children across national borders. On the other, it investigates children’s experiences, views, priorities and expectations and their roles as active agents in their own migration. These subjects are not analysed, however, in isolation. Children exist in society, and their lives are shaped by the ways in which they are perceived and acted upon by states and communities. It is therefore impossible to acquire a good understanding of migrant children’s experiences without having fully understood the social, political, economic and cultural contexts in which their mobility takes place.
In order to better understand the complex circumstances in which migrant childhoods are constructed over time, we also adopt an interdisciplinary perspective by including contributions representing a wide range of disciplines: ethnography, history, law, political science, psychology, sociology and social work. By establishing a dialogue between disciplines, we aim to illustrate how the same subject can be analysed from different perspectives. In this book we argue that only the combination of diverse theoretical and methodological approaches allows for a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms underlying child migrations. Moreover, in order to ensure a broad coverage in terms of migratory experiences, we wanted the case studies in this volume to focus not on a unique type of migrant children but on a diversity of situations (e.g., refugees, unaccompanied or accompanied migrants, adoptees).
In order to do so, we have approached thirteen scholars from different countries, whose cutting-edge research on childhood in different contexts had yielded very interesting results. We consolidated this unique joint effort to combine in-depth interdisciplinary empirical research with conceptual work during a workshop in Padua in July 2017. Bringing together early career researchers and more experienced scholars from different disciplinary fields who share interest in child migration in(to) Europe, we initiated a dialogue across disciplines and generations which we hope will be continued in the future. The case studies presented in the volume cover a wide geographical area within Europe, both West (Belgium, France, Germany) and East (Romania, Russia, Ukraine), South (Italy, Portugal, Turkey) and North (Sweden), enabling a deep understanding of the diversity of migrant childhoods in the European context.
In the research that informs the chapters, the authors used a variety of methodologies and sources, including archival research; ethnographic observation and interviews; documents produced by governments, justice courts, relief agencies and (inter)national organisations; personal diaries and drawings; published and unpublished memoirs; films and press, as well as data from institutional and experts’ reports (i.e., medics, sociologists, psychologists, welfare workers). These sources enabled the authors to reflect on and analyse different collective and individual actors’ actions towards children and their migration: bureaucrats, medics, legal experts, judges, parents (adoptive or ‘natural’), (religious) philanthropists, politicians, teachers and welfare workers. The contributors also had to overcome a series of difficulties in gaining access to sources, ranging from hunting to put together scattered sources (unfortunately a frequent problem for historians of childhood) or being denied access to specific ‘sensitive’ funds, to finding one’s way through piles of uninventoried documents or recovering information from 30-year-old floppy disks. Surpassing these difficulties and demonstrating resourcefulness and patience, the contributors to this volume provided us with richly documented case studies.
Finally, this volume aims to understand how migrant children perceived and understood their experiences and their relationship with the world in which they lived. Contributors engaged with the words of adults who migrated during childhood, through ethnographic observations, interviews, films and testimonies written a posteriori
, and analysed their perspectives and representations of the past, the long-term impact of their displacement, as well as the role of memory and recollection. Using drawings, school essays and diaries, researchers also managed to uncover the voices of ‘historical children’ (Moruzi et al., 2019). Drawings are young children’s privileged mode of expression and constitute ‘an open window into their experiences’ (see Mahé, Chapter 2
in this volume). In the early post-1945 period, teachers and social workers encouraged European children to draw their experiences. Believing that the Second World War had strongly impacted the children, drawing was seen as a means of coming to terms with what had happened. Finally, as in the volume Children’s voices from the past: New historical and interdisciplinary perspectives
(Moruzi et al., 2019), our book also aims to be a contribution to a central methodological issue at the heart of the study of children and childhood: How do we manage to understand the perspectives of children from the past?
Going beyond the chronological and geographical divide
The literature dealing with migration is characterised by a clear division between, on the one hand, studies of sociologists, anthropologists or political scientists, focusing mainly on the twenty-first century (Ryan, 2018) and, on the other, historical studies, addressing especially the previous period (Tromly, 2016; Barkan, 1996). Approaching migration studies differently according to discipline, which enables a good identification of each period’s particularities, underlines discontinuities and does not really take into consideration elements of continuity. Moreover, it tends to freeze a disciplinary division in the approaches to migratory phenomena, limiting the circulation of ideas, concepts and methods. Our volume aims to go beyond this disciplinary and temporal divide and, through an interdisciplinary and long-term approach, to enable a better understanding of the forces at play in the migratory process, their evolution through time and the impact they have on children and their experiences.
Calls have already been made to adopt a longer-term approach and to go beyond the chronological and methodological divide. In spite of growing interest in childhood studies and child migration, the focus tends to remain on specific case studies, periods or geographic areas. Several historical studies have analysed how children became the subject of national and international concern and competition. In her seminal study, The lost children: Reconstructing Europe’s families after World War II, Tara Zahra (2011) focused on the challenges faced by Europe’s displaced children and showed how children became, over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, a special form of social and political capital. Ellen R. Boucher’s (2014) book, The empire’s children: Child emigration, welfare and the decline of the British World, 1869–1967, analysed the logics underpinning the emigration of poor children from England. In addition to giving a thorough account of the ways in which these migrations took place, Boucher also studied how children responded to these emigration programs, devised without consulting the children themselves. Boucher’s approach adds nuance and complexity to our understandings of children’s perceptions and experiences. Nick Baron’s (2016) edited volume, Displaced children in Russia and Eastern Europe, 1915–1953, focused on the displacement and replacement of children in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during a period of empire collapse, aggressive nationalism and the rise of totalitarian regimes. The contributors not only analysed the normative notions of childhood and state interventions, they also listened to the voices of children, using a double-edged approach which enabled us to get a glimpse into the realities of millions of children who lived during the interwar period. Our collective volume aims to adopt an approach similar to that of Boucher and Baron, in order to allow for a better understanding of the evolution of child migration since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Research on recent child migration in the European context has mostly been published in collective volumes. Of particular interest is Childhood and migration in Europe: Portraits of mobility, identity and belonging in contemporary Ireland (2011), published by a group of researchers led by Caitriona Ni Laoire. Focusing on immigration to Ireland, the volume provides enlightening analyses of the experiences of child migrants from Africa, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe. The originality of this study lies in the interest the researchers attach to the history of Irish emigration and its impact. That being said, the focus on the historical context serves mainly to provide a backdrop for recent immigration; a truly long-term perspective is lacking. The same can be said about Child and youth migration: Mobility-in-migration in an era of globalization, edited by Angela Veale and Giorgia Donà (Veale and Donà, 2014). Despite its innovative approach, it lacks an in-depth historical analysis of current events and processes, which we believe to be essential. Finally, although more interested in the historical roots of contemporary child migrations, Children and forced migration: Durable solutions during transient years by Marisa O. Ensor and Elżbieta M. Goździak (2016) focuses exclusively on forced migration and deals mainly with non-European countries. Our volume aims to introduce the excellent contemporary debates listed above in a long-term perspective, thus showing that history is essential to better understanding contemporary phenomena.
Moreover, studies examining childhood and migration in general, and child migration in particular, focus mainly on the Western half of Europe. Nick Baron’s volume is also representative of a growing interest in the study of childhood and youth in East Central Europe and the Soviet Union. Reflecting the dominant position of the country in the region, studies dealing with Russia and the Soviet Union are the most numerous (Cerovic, 2018; Neumann, 2011). Similar studies, though less in number, are developing in relation to other states from the region, analysing family practices, parenthood, childhood and youth (Wylegała, 2015; Nykytyn-Gazziero, 2014; Naumovic and Jovanovic, 2004). Our volume wishes to put the East back in the history of European migration by integrating case studies which deal with Europe as a whole and going beyond the geographical internal divide, all the while illustrating both similarities and differences existing across the continent.