The plight of child refugees being reunited with their families and resettled in the UK has been the cause of much attention in recent weeks. The charity Safe Passage UK says that it has identified 387 unaccompanied children in the infamous Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp who have a legal right to come to the UK, either because they have close relatives in the country, or because of the Dubs Amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act which gives the most vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees the right to asylum in the UK.
Yet, as the first children arrive on British shores, controversy is raging in the media, with some commentators querying the age of certain of these refugees, and therefore their right to be included in the resettlement programme. David Davies, the MP for Monmouthshire, has called for dental checks and hand x-rays to examine the new arrivals, alleging that some adults are claiming to be children to exploit the ‘well of hospitality that exists in Britain’ and subvert entry requirements. Such calls raise important questions about the nature of childhood, and the competing constructions of the category.
These debates are not new, and calls to categorize childhood in purely physical terms are starkly reminiscent of colonial debates over which colonial subjects were ‘children’ and therefore deserving of humanitarian intervention. My PhD research on local, imperial and international interventions into child and forced marriage in British colonial Africa during the first half of the twentieth century illuminates some of these debates, and speaks to the problems with insisting on a rigid definition of childhood based on physical development and chronological age. Categorization of children and young people in this way is notoriously inaccurate, has been described as ‘inappropriate and unethical’ by the British Dental Association, and fails to take into account the social and emotional aspects of their lived experience.Continue reading “What is a Child? The Calais Child Refugees in Imperial Context”→
In 2019, India will embark upon a uniquely postcolonial set of centenaries. During the Great War the Defence of India Act (1915) had given the Government of India exceptional powers to silence dissent and crush any nascent “terrorist” or “revolutionary” movement. So effective had the powers proven, against both radical and moderate nationalists, that there were many within the colonial state who sought their extension into peace time. The “Rowlatt” (Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes) Act of 1919 attempted this, and the resistance against the act was led by the ex-lawyer and future-Mahatma, Mr MK Gandhi. The centenary of the Rowlatt “Satyagraha” (the name for Gandhi’s non-violent, political “truth-force”, protest movement) will doubtless by commemorated by the Congress party and many others in India.
Yet both these commemorations may well be overshadowed in 2019 by the centenary of the “Jallianwala Bagh” massacre, in which the colonial state displayed the violence inherent in the Rowlatt regulations in Amritsar; the shooting of unarmed civilians that sparked a global outcry. While India was enduring violence at home it was plotting peace abroad. The year 1919 will also mark the centenary of India’s contribution to the Peace Treaty of Versailles. Few anticipated that India’s attendance at the conference would automatically make it a founder of the League of Nations, the only non-self-governing state to ever become a member. 1919 will be a busy year for centenaries; all of the above, in some way, are legacies of the First World War.
V. I. Lenin penned and published his influential pamphlet, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, in the midst of the First World War. Building upon Marxist contemporaries like Hilferding and Bukharin as well as non-Marxist theorists like J. A. Hobson, Lenin’s pamphlet would quickly come to embody the orthodox Marxist critique concerning the relationship between modern capitalism and imperialism. In this Talking Empire podcast, Dr Marc-William Palen discusses Lenin’s Imperialism and its legacy with Professor Richard Toye.