‘Asexual, Apolitical Beings’: The Interpretation of Children's Identities and Experiences in the UK Asylum System

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Abstract

This article explores the experiences of separated asylum-seeking children and considers the implications of dominant understandings of ‘childhood’ for the ways in which the children's experiences of persecution and violence are interpreted in the UK asylum system. Although there is a widely held consensus among academics that the boundaries of ‘childhood’ are socially constructed—and that this is reflected in differences in what it means to be a ‘child’ over time and across space—this understanding is largely absent from the policies and practices that constitute the asylum determination process. Children who claim asylum are constructed as passive, vulnerable, dependent, asexual and apolitical victims (usually at the hands of adults) who should be allowed to stay on a discretionary basis until they turn 18 but who are not considered deserving of, or entitled to, protection under international law. Where children assert their agency and insist that their political and sexual experiences are taken into account, this may undermine their claims to be children at all. This article draws on the accounts of separated children seeking asylum in the UK to suggest that a more nuanced and contextualised understanding of the political, social and cultural contexts from which children originate is needed to ensure that children are granted the protection they need and deserve.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1171-1184
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Volume37
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2011

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interpretation
experience
childhood
international law
violence
Childhood

Keywords

  • children and young people
  • asylum
  • Refugees
  • refugee law
  • sex
  • Politics
  • Political identity
  • United Kingdom

Cite this

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