Forgotten children. The living situation of undocumented children in the Netherlands
The Netherlands signed the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child two decades ago. However, various measures taken by the Dutch Cabinet indicate a narrowing of the rights of children. These measures are attracting a great deal of criticism from the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the Children’s Ombudsman, human rights organizations and interest groups. They base their criticism primarily on research into children with residence status: children in refugee centres and family detention centres, and individual under-age refugees.
There is virtually no information on undocumented children. By this, we mean children who are not staying in family detention centres, have never requested asylum, or children who have been denied refugee status. Researchers and organizations estimate this group of children to number in the thousands. No recent information is available about the current situation of undocumented children living in the City of Utrecht. This was the reason for conducting this study into the number of undocumented children and the conditions in which they live.
Fanga Musow, a shelter project for undocumented women and children in Utrecht, initiated the study. Stichting Los (“National Support Point for Undocumented Migrants”), HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (Research group Innovation in Social Work) and Defence for Children were also all involved in this study. The request for a follow-up on this initiative came from the City of Utrecht. The municipality wanted to know what it could do to improve the situation of this group of children in the city.
The objective of the study was to gain insight into the number of undocumented children and into their living and housing circumstances.
There were four research questions: 1) How many undocumented children are there in the Netherlands and in the City of Utrecht? 2) How do undocumented children experience their housing and living conditions? 3) To what extent are conditions for the children’s development guaranteed? And 4) What recommendations should be formulated for municipal policy to ensure decent conditions for development of undocumented children?
To answer these research questions, we conducted a quantitative study to estimate the number of undocumented children, and a qualitative study to examine the developmental situation of these children.
The data was collected using the following methods: through a written questionnaire sent out and phone calls made to educational institutions (primary schools and secondary education institutions) and early development centres in Utrecht; secondary analyses of the databases belonging to the City of Utrecht; semi-structured interviews with undocumented children between 6 and 19 years old; and a study of the scientific literature on the housing and living conditions of undocumented children.
We used a model from Kalverboer and Zijlstra (2008) as a source for the interview questions. On the basis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the researchers formulated fourteen conditions for development. We reduced this number of conditions to eight, distributed over the categories inside and outside the family. The conditions inside the family are livelihood, housing, pedagogical environment and health. The conditions outside the family are social networks, education, interaction with peers and the future. Fourth-year students from HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht conducted the interviews and transcribed them verbatim. They performed the analyses together with the researchers from HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. The reason for involving students in the research was to make these prospective professionals in the social and legal sectors aware of the issues surrounding this group of vulnerable children. The children were recruited via social work institutions and intermediaries. Since we did not manage to find enough children in Utrecht who would agree to an interview within the research period, we expanded the area of recruitment to the three other major cities in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
“Only” 45 children without a permanent residence are recorded in the education files of the City of Utrecht. Our survey and calls to schools and early development centres revealed that seven undocumented children live in Utrecht. Most of the intermediaries that we approached indicated that they did not have enough time to participate in the study.
The interviews resulted in the following findings. Of the 29 children, 16 were born in the Netherlands. More than half are growing up without a father. The children form part of a total of 21 families. All of these children attend school. They have a social network that they can fall back on and that supports them in practical matters but also in legal procedures. Most of the children aspire to a future in the Netherlands. A large number of the children indicate that they lack basic needs such as school supplies, toys, (sports) clothing or a bike. Of the 21 families to which the children belong, seven are completely dependent on donations. The children also say they suffer from the many relocations that they have gone through and their cramped housing conditions. Furthermore, the children indicate that there are many things they cannot do, such as work, obtain a scooter or driving license, visit places where they will need to show identification, or travel abroad.
Determining the actual number of undocumented children in the Netherlands and Utrecht turned out to be quite challenging. The scientific literature, municipal database and the intermediaries who were approached did not provide conclusive information about the group. It was not possible to establish an exact number for the City of Utrecht based on the numbers that we found.
The children who were interviewed reported problems that correspond in part to those of documented children and particularly those growing up in poverty. Many children who live in poverty suffer from problems related to an unhealthy or unvaried diet, or cannot afford the membership of (sports) clubs. These issues are not unique to undocumented children. However, our study shows that the problems of undocumented children are more fundamental in their nature than those of documented children who grow up in poverty.
Kinderen buiten beeld. De leefsituatie van ongedocumenteerde kinderen in Nederland
Dit artikel werpt licht op de omstandigheden waaronder kinderen zonder verblijfsstatus (ongedocumenteerde kinderen) opgroeien in Nederland en niet in beeld zijn bij de overheid. Het betreft uitgeprocedeerde kinderen en kinderen die nooit een asielaanvraag hebben ingediend. In beide gevallen gaat het om kinderen die met hun ouders een bestaan in de illegaliteit opbouwen. De data zijn afkomstig uit een studie naar de woon- en leefsituatie van 29 illegale kinderen tussen 6 tot 19 jaar oud. De kinderen benoemen problemen die gedeeltelijk samenvallen met die van andere kinderen in Nederland, ook kinderen die in armoede opgroeien. De problemen van ongedocumenteerde kinderen werken echter zwaarder door. Ook staan zij onder grote psychische druk. Ze leven met het geheim van hun juridische status, zijn bang door de politie te worden opgepakt, weten niet wie ze kunnen vertrouwen en ervaren hun toekomst als ongewis.
Kromhout, M., Kloppenburg, R. & van Doorn, L., (2015). Kinderen buiten beeld. De leefsituatie van ongedocumenteerde kinderen in Nederland. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice. 24(1), pp.4–23. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/jsi.433
Kromhout M, Kloppenburg R, van Doorn L. Kinderen buiten beeld. De leefsituatie van ongedocumenteerde kinderen in Nederland. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice. 2015;24(1):4–23. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/jsi.433
Kromhout, M., Kloppenburg, R., & van Doorn, L. (2015). Kinderen buiten beeld. De leefsituatie van ongedocumenteerde kinderen in Nederland. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice, 24(1), 4–23. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/jsi.433
Kromhout, Mayke, Raymond Kloppenburg, and Lia van Doorn. 2015. Kinderen buiten beeld. De leefsituatie van ongedocumenteerde kinderen in Nederland 24, no. 1: 4–23. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/jsi.433