Children’s Rights as Human Rights

| December 2015
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A refugee sleeps with her children on a ferry traveling from the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos to the Athens port of Piraeus, Sept. 9, 2015. Courtesy: Euro

A refugee sleeps with her children on a ferry traveling from the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos to the Athens port of Piraeus, Sept. 9, 2015. Courtesy: Freedom House


Child Migration & Human Rights in a Global Age, Jacqueline Bhabha (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014).

Human Rights and Adolescence, Jacqueline Bhabha, ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).

The image of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned on September 2, 2015, as he tried to cross the Mediterranean with his family to seek safety in Europe, may finally shock Europe and the world into offering greater protection to refugees fleeing from war and persecution in Syria and elsewhere.1 Aylan’s death was a tragedy of a kind that has become all too familiar. In 2015 alone, thousands of people have died trying to reach European shores in unseaworthy, overcrowded boats.2 Many of those who drowned were children—including in a single instance an estimated one hundred children (out of a total of some eight hundred fatalities) lost in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya in April.

In Asia, thousands of Rohingya Muslims, children as well as adults, were stranded at sea in May 2015 without adequate food or water, after Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand repeatedly turned their boats away.3 Indonesia and Malaysia eventually, and begrudgingly, bowed to international pressure, announcing that they would offer temporary shelter to these refugees—but only under the condition that they would be resettled elsewhere within a year.4

The Americas have seen their own humanitarian crises involving children. In 2014, Central American children crossed into the United States from Mexico in large numbers, prompting U.S. immigration authorities to detain for lengthy periods both unaccompanied migrant children and those traveling with their families.5 In Mexico, stepped-up immigration enforcement led to over 23,000 apprehensions of migrant children in 2014, an increase of 140 percent over the previous year.6 Unofficial preliminary statistics for the first half of 2015 suggest that Mexico has arrested and deported nearly twice as many migrant children coming from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as it did in the same period in 2014.

Child migration is nothing new, as Jacqueline Bhabha reminds us in Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age. But her book is particularly timely in helping us understand why children move across borders, with family members or alone, despite the obvious risks. Bhabha also helps us to get a better grasp on policymakers’ uneven, sometimes incoherent, responses to child migration—responses that she suggests are best understood as expressions of “official ambivalence” toward the problem.

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  1. Anne Barnard and Karam Shoumali, “Image of Drowned Syrian, Aylan Kurdi, 3, Brings Migrant Crisis Into Focus,” New York Times, September 3, 2015.
  2. Judith Sunderland, “Brussels’ Personae Non Gratae,” Human Rights Watch and Foreign Policy online, April 29, 2015.
  3. John Sifton, “Asia’s Watery Graveyard for Asylum Seekers,” The Diplomat online, May 16, 2015.
  4. “Southeast Asia: Accounts from Rohingya Boat People,” Human Rights Watch online, May 27, 2015.
  5. “US: Surge in Detention of Child Migrants,” Human Rights Watch online, June 25, 2014; and Wil S. Hylton, “The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps,” New York Times Magazine online, February 4, 2015.
  6. Animal Político, CIDE, “Programa Frontera Sur: Cacería de Migrantes en México,” Centro de Investigación Periodística (CIPER), April 28, 2015.
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Category: Issue 29.4, Migration, Review Essays

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