- Children on the Move in Africa: Past & Present Experiences of Migration ed. by Elodie Razy and Marie Rodet
Children on the Move in Africa contributes to the increasing corpus of literature that investigates childhood, and specifically childhood migration, in Africa. Migration is understood in this edited volume as any change of residence, ranging from local to international, that occurs outside a child's community, which can be temporary or permanent (2). The authors complicate the notion long held by international development agencies that childhood migration is characterized by victimhood as children are trafficked across communities for the purpose of physical and sexual exploitation as slaves, laborers, soldiers, or sex workers, or a child migrant's inherent vulnerability as orphan, street child, refugee, or witch (4).
They also contest counter-narratives that portray children as sole agents who break away from adults and kinship ties in search of independence and economic and social mobility. Instead, they present a nuanced perspective of the child migrant who contributes to the continuity of kinship networks through migration. While these children achieve a certain amount of agency and are able to adapt cultural, political, and religious structures to attain their goals, their position as juniors, who largely rely on adults for sustenance and support, renders them susceptible to exploitation and abuse. The authors question the very notion of childhood as a matter of biological fact and reassert the long-held perspective by researchers of Africa that childhood on the continent is a matter of social position and not biological age, as young men and women slip precariously between multiple categories of child, youth, junior, adult, man, woman, girl, and boy.
The volume is divided into three parts, each inquiring into a different aspect of childhood migration. The first, "Child migrants in Africa: Beyond the Dilemma of Vulnerability v. Agency," explores the various ways that Africans adapted colonial structures to facilitate migration. The first chapter, by Kelly Duke Bryant, considers how Senegalese students in Catholic Schools in France showed a remarkable capacity for co-opting nineteenth-century colonial and religious structures to defy their parents and kinship networks in order to complete their education (31–50). While their exercise in agency allowed them to use adult allies to improve their position in [End Page E21] society, the same cannot be said for Robin P. Chapdelaine's investigation into girl pawns, brides, and slaves in southeast Nigeria. In this case study, adults manipulated the colonial system to facilitate the movement, and in some cases trafficking, of young girls across boundaries. Chapdelaine shows how poverty and economic and resource insecurity led to the transfer of girls from one form of guardianship to another, sometimes with, sometimes without, parental consent (51–66).
Part Two, "Being a Child & Becoming a Gendered Adult: The Challenges of Migration in Childhood," explores childhood migration for labor in contemporary Africa. Whether migration is represented as domestic service in postcolonial Zambia, as is the case in Sacha Hepburn's essay, or child fosterage in Mail and Togo, as expressed in the contributions of Paola Porcelli and Marco Gardini respectively, these chapters express how widespread post-colonial economic decline compels people to increasingly call on kinship networks across rural and urban spaces for the purpose of transferring guardianship. This type of migration often occurs with the active consent of the child in search of "education, employment or independence" (70). While women often fulfill their quest to financially support their families, young men's aspirations for social mobility and financial independence are rarely realized, as their exploitation in domestic servitude delays their ascent to adulthood, despite their struggles to actively redefine the terms of manhood (104–22).
Essays in Part Three, "Mobility, Imagination and Making Nations," investigate the links between childhood migration in colonial Africa and identity formation. Contributions by Violaine Tisseau, Lacy S. Ferrell, Hannah Whittaker, and Harjyot Hayer explore how migration for education contributed to social trajectories and nationalist identities in Madagascar, Ghana, and Southern Sudan...