Book: Child Migration and Human Rights in a Golden Age

Child Migration and Human Rights in a Golden Age by Jacqueline Bhabha – Princeton University PressIn the last 35 years, migration to the developed world has doubled. Yet, contrary to the current anti-refugee narrative, 83% of migrants remain in their region of original. This book concerns the 11% of the world’s migrants who are younger than 20 years of age, many of them fending for themselves in appalling circumstances, exploited or ignored.

Only recently has it been acknowledged that the authorities should consider what is best for the child. Children used to be treated as appendages of their male relatives, as women were (and still are in many parts of the world). Now, children are legally more “visible,” but the problem, argues the author, is our “ambivalence” toward them: do we want to protect them or find reasons to eject them from our countries?The message emerging from this tome, packed with disturbing facts and distressing anecdotes, is that while the laws, conventions and treaties protecting children’s rights exist on paper, implementation is sketchy at best. “Where political will is absent, advocacy weak, and the rights-holder weaker still, de facto rightlessness is the norm,” writes the author.

Unaccompanied children are put in brothels, criminal gangs and sweatshops or left to wander the streets. In conflict zones, they are forced to become child soldiers. In Russia, an alarming number of people running state orphanages sell the children to traffickers. Hence one in ten children from Russian orphanages will commit suicide, while one in three will be homeless.

Reading this book, one is constantly confronted by the inhumanity of parents, as well as bureaucrats. Female children are particularly disposable in large parts of the world. “Trafficking their daughters is one way that South East Asian families generate funds to make capital improvements to their home and their land.”

Returning trafficked children to abusive domestic situations or societies in which they have only monetary value seems monstrous when one considers what awaits them: at least 20% will be re-trafficked by their parents. A 14-year-old Moldovan girl, sold by her parents, was forced into prostitution in the UK. When she was “rescued” she was returned “home” where she was “gang-raped, strung up by a rope from a tree, and forced to dig her own grave. One of her front teeth was pulled out with a pair of pliers. Shortly afterwards she was re-trafficked, first to Israel and later back to the UK.”

One take-away from this book is how crucial are the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice, for enforcing the theoretical protection afforded the most vulnerable in our society. Those readers of ICN in the UK might consider that when they vote on June 23rd.


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