Children Falling Through the Net

James Baker

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

j.baker-2019@hull.ac.uk

Saphia Fleury

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

Jasmine Holding Brown

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

j.holding-brown-2019@hull.ac.uk

Charlotte Russell

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

c.russell-2018@hull.ac.uk

The Wilberforce Institute is home to a number of students whose PhD research focuses on child migration and exploitation, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Four recently came together to explore the connections and the points of difference between their studies. James Baker, Jasmine Holding Brown and Saphia Fleury are first year students in the Falling through the Net cluster, and Charlotte Russell is in her second year. They share their thoughts below.

Our connections:

All four of our research projects are concerned with the situations and processes, emerging in the context of migration, that place children at risk of exploitation. Although approached in different ways, and applied in disparate geographical, cultural and historical contexts, there are common concerns relating to issues of vulnerability and victimhood.

Vulnerabilities are understood, in part, as a condition of childhood, since to varying degrees children depend on adults for protection and survival. However, settlement in unfamiliar territories brings with it cultural and linguistic displacement and furthers the risks of exploitation. This raises important concerns regarding children on the move, who not only have specific needs but are also the bearers of rights.  This in turn focuses attention on the power differentials between adults and children and the relationships between children and the state. It is notable in all our projects that the experiences of migrant children are varied and complex, but also, crucially, that their perspectives are often missing.

Victimhood represents the second of our common concerns. We all seek to balance the acknowledgment of vulnerabilities with the risk of imposing culturally determined images of victimhood upon migrant children. In managing these issues our work is linked by a critical approach, not the notion of ‘victim’ in itself, but to the imposition of a particular form of passive victimhood upon children who have experienced or are experiencing trauma or harm in relation to forced migration.

Our differences:

James and heritage

My particular focus is on how heritage has been utilised to preserve and represent the experience of forced child emigration. As a historian who is interested in memory studies and public history, I am concentrating largely on how museums and memorials have chosen to represent the topic of forced child emigration from Britain to Australia. This research raises a number of important issues; not only do I need to investigate the role that former child migrants themselves have played in defining their own heritage, but I also need to understand how the wider public relates to this history and their contemporary moral judgments of child migrant schemes. I will also be looking to make a comparative analysis of the British and Australian heritage regimes at large, in addition to how the creation of heritage markers in relation to the Home Children can facilitate the wider process of historical redress and reconciliation.

Jasmine and rescue

My project focuses on child rescue – the development of social movements aimed at ‘rescuing’ children, the agencies involved and the ideologies underpinning their practices. I am looking at forced child migration (from Britain to Canada) and compulsory residential schooling (for Indigenous Canadian children) in the 20th Century, to explore the ways in which these drastic, and, ultimately harmful practices were legitimised. Factors that were significant in cementing these forms of ‘child rescue’ include, I suggest, the assumed moral authority of white middle-class philanthropists, religious institutions and other agencies of the state, in addition to the alignment of child rescue with imperialist and colonial political agendas, namely white settlement and assimilation. These cases raise important questions about the nature of the ‘parent state’: who is entitled to act on behalf of children; how are these arrangements constructed, which potentially conflicting interests do they also serve, and to whom are they accountable?

Saphia and the environment

My research looks specifically at modern-day child migration in the context of environmental change, particularly climate change. In my analysis of legal frameworks for the protection of children, I found that, while sufficient legal protections do exist, these are frequently not applied to children on the move. Moreover, there is a protection gap for people migrating as a result of environmental change, who do not fit the category of ‘refugees’.  As a result, many are pushed into exploitative situations, or suffer abuse or an inability to realise their human rights. As climate change reduces the number of people who can sustain a livelihood at home, we might expect the international community to provide support and sustainable solutions for those who need to move. Yet in the context of climate change, the issue of ‘agency’ becomes muddied; more so when considering the decisions made by children who leave their homes in search of a better life.

Charlotte and encampment

In my research, the refugee camp becomes the focus of attention as I assess the role of power and responsibility in the management of such camps. My study seeks to evaluate how these power dynamics, operating within the boundaried and politically contested zone of the refugee camp, influence the embodiment and enactment of a rights consciousness among the young refugees living within them. Children who have experienced or are experiencing trauma suffer the imposition of a particular form of passive victimhood or harm in relation to forced migration. As a result, a key issue which my work aims to address is the effective representation of the experiences of young refugees in camps, without homogenisation or groupism. I’m seeking to balance evidencing young refugees’ expressions of agency with the acknowledgement of their complex and varied individual experiences of ‘childhood’.

Thank you for your interest in our research. We will be adding other blogs as our work develops.

Children photographed as they prepare to leave Britain in the 1960s.

Wilberforce Institute Webinars at the Freedom Festival

Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th September, 2020.

Whilst September marks the return to learning in British schools and universities, for the City of Hull it also heralds the beginning of a four-day festival that has grown to become one of the cultural highlights of the year. Since 2007 the Freedom Festival, beginning on Friday 4th September this year, provides the opportunity for artists and champions of freedom in all its forms to raise awareness about human rights. Whilst this year’s activities are centred firmly on virtual cultural gatherings, the programme provides something for everyone.

The Wilberforce Institute has played a key role in supporting the festival since its foundation during the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the British Slave Trade in 2007. This year we are delighted to be contributing four ‘Freedom Talks’ that are part of their exciting programme. From the director of our Institute, to PhD students at the beginning of their academic journey, members of the Institute are looking forward to sharing the fruits of their research with audiences around the world. All four events are free to attend, delivered online, and don’t require any booking. In this blog we aim to provide you with a taster of these activities that we hope will encourage you to join us to find out more.

  • Black Peril

Throughout this summer, British streets, squares and bridges that were the scene of violent race riots in 1919, were transformed into dynamic stages, galleries and plinths to creatively explore this past. It’s easy to get the idea that mobs of ‘woke’ millennials are suddenly forcing Britons to confront ‘diversity’ for the first time. However, from Glasgow to Barry (via Hull), and indeed Chicago and New York the entire western world was engulfed in racial conflict over 100 years ago. The backdrop of today’s civil unrest, statues being torn down and serious soul searching across Britain, mean that there has rarely been a more opportune moment to explore ignored British history, radically challenging the way ‘British’, ‘White’ and ‘Working-Class’ identities have been constructed. As Soweto Kinch has argued, ‘1919 established and entrenched hierarchies of racism that have yet to be undone’.

Two times Mobo Award winning, Mercury nominated British Saxophonist Soweto Kinch will be talking to Dr Nicholas Evans from the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull about the Race Riots that took place in Hull in 1919-1920. This talk precedes the online performance of #BlackPeril2020 for five nights between Monday, 14th and Friday, 18th September 2020.

Watch at https://www.freedomfestival.co.uk/freedom-talks-black-peril-2020/ on Saturday, 5th September 2020, 1-2pm.

Join the live Q&A at @WilberforceHull or @FreedomFestHull on Saturday, 5th September 2020, 2-3pm using the hashtag #FreedomTalks.

  • Tacky’s Revolt

This webinar assembles a stellar cast of academics, all with specialist knowledge in the area, to discuss the largest slave revolt in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world, an uprising that laid bare the interconnectedness of Europe, Africa, and America, shook the foundations of empire, and reshaped ideas of race and popular belonging. Chaired by Diana Paton, William Robertson Professor at the University of Edinburgh (author of The Cultural Politics of Obeah), five academics discuss their understanding of Tacky’s Rebellion.

The panellists include: Vincent Brown, Charles Warren Professor of History at Harvard University (author of Tacky’s Revolt); Edward Rugemer, Associate Professor of History at Yale University (author of Slave Law and the Politics of Resistance); Lissa Bollettino, Associate Professor of History at Framingham University (author of the forthcoming Slavery, War and Britain’s Eighteenth Century Atlantic Empire); Robert Hanserd, Assistant Professor of History at Columbia College, Chicago (author of Identity, Spirit and Freedom in the Atlantic World); and our very own Trevor Burnard, Wilberforce Professor in the Wilberforce Institute (author of Jamaica in the Age of Revolution).

Erica Charters, Associate Professor of History at the University of Oxford (author of Disease, War and the Imperial State), will offer a final commentary.

Watch at https://www.freedomfestival.co.uk/freedom-talks-tackys-revolt/ on Saturday, 5th September 2020, 3-5pm.

Join the live Q&A at @WilberforceHull or @FreedomFestHull on Saturday, 5th September 2020, 5-6pm using the hashtag #FreedomTalks.

  • Falling through the Net

Around the world it is the most vulnerable who are often the victims of coerced labour. Such bondage is nothing new, and yet explorations of why children are especially at risk from exploitation has not received as much scholarly attention as other aspects of slavery studies.

Three members of the ‘Falling through the Net’ research cluster at the Institute, James Baker, Jasmine Holding Brown and Saphia Fleury will each talk about their individual projects in this webinar. James’ focus is on how heritage has been utilised to preserve and represent the experience of forced child emigration to Australia. Jasmine is looking at child rescue in Canada – the development of social movements aimed at ‘rescuing’ children, the agencies involved and the ideologies underpinning their practices. Saphia’s research concerns migration in the context of environmental change, particularly climate change.

Watch at https://www.freedomfestival.co.uk/freedom-talks-falling-through-the-net/ on Sunday, 6th September 2020, 1-2pm.

Join the live Q&A at @WilberforceHull or @FreedomFestHull on Sunday, 6th September 2020, 2-3pm using the hashtag #FreedomTalks.

  • Modern slavery in Humberside

The Humber Modern Slavery Partnership is a strategic partnership of front line organisations across the Humberside Police area dedicated to tackling all forms of modern slavery. Over 60 agencies have joined together to fight slavery and trafficking, and their Coordinator Andrew Smith and Vice Chair Alicia Kidd explain how forms of modern slavery are found in this region.

In this webinar, they discuss the local picture of modern slavery, looking at who the victims are and what they experience, how they become exploited, how they manage to leave the situation, what happens to them once they are out of exploitation and what the practitioner response looks like. They also consider the impact of Covid-19 and how this has changed the way that exploiters operate.

Watch at https://www.freedomfestival.co.uk/freedom-talks-modern-slavery-in-humberside/ on Sunday, 6th September 2020, 4-5pm.

Join the live Q&A at @WilberforceHull or @FreedomFestHull on Sunday, 6th September 2020, 5-6-pm using the hashtag #FreedomTalks.

Image by kind permission of Soweto Kinch.

Research in the Time of COVID-19

Saphia Fleury

‘Falling Through the Net’ PhD Research Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk, #FallingThroughTheNet

Humanity, it seems, is capable of grappling with just one crisis at a time. Worldwide searches on Google for ‘climate change’, fairly constant since the beginning of the year, fell dramatically after 14 March 2020 when the world was getting to grips with COVID-19.[i] Despite being a climate change scholar, I played my own tiny part in this trend, frequently being distracted from my studies by breaking news of the pandemic.

My research topic is child exploitation in the context of climate and environmental change. My hypothesis is that, as climate change alters people’s environments and pushes them to migrate in precarious circumstances, opportunities for child trafficking, child labour and other forms of exploitation will increase. Human migration is one aspect of the wider climate crisis, which until recently held top spot in the public psyche for ‘Catastrophe Most Likely to Destroy Us’. The recent groundswell of interest was partly due to Greta Thunberg’s headline-grabbing emotive speeches and her adventurous exploits, such as sailing across the Atlantic to attend the climate summit. Nevertheless, public engagement in the topic has been steadily rising for years, as tales of rising seas in Asia, drought-stricken farmland in Africa, and instances of flooding closer to home began to make regular headlines.

The advent, therefore, of the compelling and tragic COVID-19 drama being played out in real-time is doubly bad news for those of us who want to keep climate change high on the agenda. No doubt, halting the pandemic will take all our efforts. Yet policy-makers and researchers alike must keep a weather eye on our changing climate to avoid missing crucial deadlines for mitigation and adaptation.

The postponement of the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, UK, this year is a case in point. Top climate experts urged UK Prime Minister Johnson to keep to the original timetable for the meeting, arguing that the momentum for real global action would be lost if the talks were moved back to 2021. ‘Cancelling it immediately might mean action on climate change gets ignored this year and people on the frontlines in poorer countries can’t afford that’, argued climate advocate Mohamed Adow. Yet, along with the Tokyo Olympics, the Cannes Film Festival and Glastonbury, postponed it was.

COVID-19 may be the biggest threat we face today, but climate change remains the biggest threat we face tomorrow. Our understanding of the nature of the latter relies on constant research, not only on weather patterns, but on social, economic and ecological trends. Monitoring of meteorological systems may stall due to the inability of scientists, particularly in developing countries, to take measurements in the field. Surveys on climate-related environmental damage have also been delayed, and a major five-year Nasa project to monitor storms in the stratosphere has been suspended indefinitely.

Academic research is also jeopardised by the current crisis. Uncertainties around funding, restrictions on travel, as well as the current ban on academics meeting face-to-face to contribute ideas and work together on shared projects, mean major delays to planned research and the likelihood that some potential ventures will never get off the ground at all.

My own research centres around the experiences of child migrants, including those travelling to Europe from Viet Nam. To future-proof my research plans against further travel bans, I have shifted my focus to those migrants who are already on my doorstep. With the assistance of UK-based community organisations and NGOs, I plan to trace two separate diasporas to record the experiences of migrant children. If we are lucky enough to see free movement reinstated within the following year, then I retain the option of expanding my research to other parts of Europe.

Meanwhile, two academic conferences that I planned to attend, on slavery and migration, are likely to be called off, and a PhD workshop organised by Wilberforce Institute students, including myself, will be postponed. Keeping in touch with the research community and building one’s academic network, which is crucial to all in academia but particularly to new research candidates, will require creative solutions. By its nature, doing a PhD can be a largely solitary process, and this is now being exacerbated hugely by circumstances of lockdown and quarantine. Zoom and Skype are lifelines in the new social-distancing era, allowing the continued free-flow of ideas as well as maintaining a sense of community and solidarity in what can otherwise be a very lonely time.

The irony is that, while I have tools at my disposal to adapt to the current landscape, my research subjects may not. The two pillars of my study – climate change and migration – will ultimately be altered by the current pandemic. Factoring in, or perhaps filtering out, the ‘coronavirus effect’ will be vital to my research. For example, it will be important to differentiate between migrants’ experiences before and after COVID-19 and evaluate possible changes to the climate regime as a result of the pandemic, in order to make predictions about future trends and policy needs. In these uncertain times, this will be my greatest research challenge.

A protester holds up a sign during a climate demonstration in London, UK.

[i] Google trends analysis for all searches of “climate change” worldwide between 10 January and 10 April 2020.