Panel 18

Little migrations? Children and teenagers mobility experiences from, to and within African continent (19th-21th)

Panel organisers: Giacomo Ghedini, Department of History and Cultures, University of Bologna, Italy & Paris Diderot University, France. Giulia Consoli, Department of History and Cultures, University of Bologna, Italy.


In 1981 Suzanne Lallemand and Guy Le Moal were provocatively defining, in the Journal des Africanistes, children as a “little subject”, one not sufficiently considered in scientific dissertations of their area studies. Today this scenario seems to be partly changed. In the last few years, children and teenagers mobility, especially if involving African continent, started to be more visible and noticed, raising, mostly in everyday common discourses, scattered and conflicting moral issues. This growing attention towards the matter has captured academic interest too, especially on contemporary migration and asylum-seeking applications. Nonetheless, the scientific insights around ‘the youngest on the move’ are still few, fragmented and suffer from the lack of voice of the actors involved in this movements or from a focalization on asylum and protection requests. On the contrary, the phenomenon is certainly not limited in space and time. Nor can it fit some strict juridical or historical categories. Aware that ideas of “childhood” and “adulthood” themselves have been historically and geographically fluid too, we propose to go beyond unequivocal narrations and representations on both “young” and “mobility” in African continent, giving, as much as possible, voice to different actors and subjects involved in those movements, without neglecting complex and plural designs, and through the broadening of the spatial, temporal and epistemological gazes.

We are interested in completed works as well as drafts on open researches. We also encourage to submit projects that focus on various experiences of minors and youth mobilities from, to or within the African continent from XIX to XXI century, especially if they have fear to feel “misplaced” or “inappropriate” in this panel. We welcome both papers that propose specific case studies and more theoretical and methodological contributions on how to work and do research on these themes.

Approved abstracts panel 18

1. African children, previously involved in Saharan-slave trade, sent to Europe by Catholic missionaries in the Nineteenth century: the case study of three alumni of Collegio Urbano of Propaganda Fide (Rome)

Author: Giacomo Ghedini, University of Bologna, Italy and University of Paris 7 Diderot, Department of History, France.

First of all, in this paper I want to outline a Nineteenth century’s phenomenon which is not extremely popular in historiography to this day. It is a case involving several hundreds of young Sub-Saharan Africans, rescued from slavery by Catholics missionaries. They were brought to Europe (Italy and France in particular) to receive an education to be later sent back to Africa as missionaries. This subject, which I am examining for my PhD’s studies, has had a certain importance in the developing of global processes such as the end of the slavery in Africa, the expansion of the missions and European colonization of the continent.

In particular, on this occasion, I want to present a case study that I selected for its distinctiveness: the parallel stories of three young African boys, Daniele Sorur Pharim Den, Arturo Morzal and Giovanni Farag. They all were former slaves sent in Italy and they share a background in studies at the prestigious Collegio Urbano of Propaganda Fide (a Vatican's congregation, in charged to spreading the Gospels in the world), located in Rome. This seminary for becoming priests hosted a lot of foreign students, but only few Africans until the three of them. They were the only three who came from Africa and studied there between 1878-1881. From this common experience, they departed for really different destinies: Daniele Sorur Pharim Den in 1887 became a priest and a missionary, one of the earliest Black-Africans writers of the Nineteenth century and died of tuberculosis in Egypt in 1900. Arturo Morzal chose to leave the College to become a doctor but died in 1888 in Malta while he was studying; Giovanni Farag was expelled from the Collegio and died in a madhouse in 1885. 

The close analysis of these different but similar biographies could be also useful to learn something new about the migration of young Africans in Europe in the Nineteenth century and about their acceptance, education and perspectives of life. 

Key words: Children slavery, Children mobility, missions, Africa, Europe, Nineteenth century.

2. Double absence, multiple presence. Some teenagers mobility experiences from West Sub-Saharan African regions to Morocco

Author: Giulia Consoli,​ Department of History and Cultures, University of Bologna, Italy.

Since Sayad’s book on “double absence” (2002), this dimension started to be quite used and enlightened in migration studies. However, in more recent years, some scholars have underlined his twin brother concept too: presence, and the possible multiplication and dislocation of it through these kinds of experiences. Based on ethnographic research with young people involved in experiences of mobility, my contribution will focus on the “unaccompanied foreign minor” category, widely used in contemporary migration speeches and policies. The fieldwork grown up in Rabat, Morocco, in 2016, with a group of boys, aged between 12 and 24 years old, coming from West and Central African Countries and mainly willing to reach Central and South European countries. Arrived in Morocco from different regions and countries with different plans and various individual and familiar situation, all the actors were united by the same UNHCR’s sub-category. Although sometimes considered “unaccompanied”, the ethnographic encounters provided a loneliness rather avoided by most of the subjects and complex multiple levels of relationships. By referring to this material, I will try to reflect firstly on the terms used and not used by individuals and institutional actors: “minor”, “young”, “children” as well as “migrant”, “asylum seekers”, “black”, “african”, “unaccompanied”, “alone”, etc. Not to be taken for granted, all these worlds could show and pursue themselves models and ideas of conceiving childhoods, mobilities/migrations and relationships in general. Reflecting on absence and presence discourses that have crossed this experience, I will try to provide ideas of the heterogenous experiences of some of these young people on the move, no less than ideas of the mobility of their relationships too.

3. Plurality of Childhoods, Plurality of Movements: Young Children’s Accounts of their Migration Experiences, Identity Constructions and Life in Morocco

Author: Chiara Massaroni, Department of Sociology, University of Innsbruck, Austria.

While recent research in sociology have reshaped the way of thinking children´s identity construction and have pointed out the complexity of children’s lives, their agentic role is often ignored in research on migration. Children are still looked at as needing stability and their experience of mobility is often victimised or interpreted within their role as family members. This paper is based on an ongoing PhD project, which foregrounds the experiences of migration of young children under the age of 13 living in Rabat, Morocco, and tries to understand the way they interpret their identity and life stories in a complex migratory contexts. From a Eurocentric perspective, Morocco is seen as a transit country, while at the same time the state is reshaping its role as county of immigration, introducing a policy of openness and inaugurating a series of regularisations of undocumented migrants. While important steps towards inclusion have been done, structural barriers towards social participation sill persist: migrant children, who formally are granted access to education, no matter their legal status, are often excluded from participation or discouraged to attend due to various forms of structural and social blockages.

My interest is in exploring what roles these social policies and political changes play in the way young children experience and recount their life in Morocco, their migration experience and their future expectations and how they shape their sense of self. The aim of this paper is to problematize an essentialist view on childhood and identities, by looking at the agentic role of children in the ways they make sense of and recount their migration experience within and against social structures around them.

4. Bongoland: Precarity and Affilial Relationships in In the Belly of Dar es Salaam

Author: Yunusy Castory Ng’umbi, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The proposed paper aims at examining the representation of dynamics in the family that result in separation among family members, and their failure to attain family reunification. It will specifically examine how Elieshi Lema’s In the Belly of Dar es Salaam represents characters who are victims of economic and political pressures that force them not only to be migrants but also to negotiate other alternatives to survive by forming affilial relationships. I therefore explore the selected narrative in relation to what Crawford Young calls ‘the webs of conflict, violent social patterns and governmental dysfunctionalities’ that disturb post-colonial subjects in Africa, thus rendering migrants detached from their biological families. Since characters in this novel move from rural areas to urban spaces, this narrative offers an opportunity to read post-colonial cities as agent spaces in the production of meanings and re-construction of identities.[1] Using Demissie’s ideas on the writing of the city space, I explore how the novel represents African cities are spaces where urban inhabitants reconfigure and remake urban worlds by deploying their own forms of urbanity born out of their historical and material circumstances. By so doing, they forge new identities for certain needs at a particular time. I try to suggest that the novel portrays the precariousness of the city of Dar es Salaam as a way to provide an opportunity for readers to understand the dynamics of marginalised groups and voices from the fringes on how they negotiate affilial relationships amongst themselves as relegated or displaced characters. 


[1] See “Imperial Legacies and Postcolonial Predicaments: An Introduction” by Fassil Demissie.

5. On the nature, dynamic and consequences of child migration in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region

Author: Innocent Moyo, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zululand, South Africa.

This paper discusses the nature, dynamic and consequences of unaccompanied child migration in the SADC region. Based on a qualitative study, this study shows that unaccompanied child migrants undergo very traumatic experiences. For instance as they cross the Limpopo River from Zimbabwe to South Africa, some die from hunger and exhaustion, while others are either eaten by crocodiles or lost. Inside the human smuggling vehicles, some of the children are forced to hide under seats, among other degrading experiences. The question of why this is prevalent in the SADC region comes to the fore and is debated in this paper together with policy implications especially in a region where the goal is regional integration as enshrined in the SADC Declaration and Treaty of 1992.

Key words: Child migration, undocumented migration, SADC, South Africa, Zimbabwe

6. Child Migrants from Mozambique to South Africa: Dynamics and Experiences

Author: Mandisa Makhathini, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zululand, South Africa.

The movement by children to live without parents or adult guardians is a major issue in developing countries (Yaqub, 2009). The study aims to look into the experiences of children migrating to South Africa and will focus on the cases of unaccompanied child migrants from Mozambique. The objectives of the study are as follows: a) to investigate demographics of these child migrants; b) to investigate how child migrants get to South Africa; c) to assess the motives of migrating to South Africa; d) to explore the experiences faced by child migrants. The research will adopt an inductive approach which will include the use of qualitative methods. Using qualitative techniques, data will be collected using in-depth interviews and documentation. The study will use a purposive sampling and a snowball sampling approach as part of choosing the study sample.

Key words: Child Migration, Unaccompanied Child Migrants, Cross-Border Migration

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