Sammanfattning av publikation

Lind, 2018 🔗

Sacrificing Parents on the Altar of Children’s Rights : Intergenerational Struggles and Rights in Deportability

Year: 2018

Type of text: Academic article

Published by:  Emotion, Space and Society

Language: English

Author: Jacob Lind

Pages: 8

Available at:

Short description of text 

Through ethnographic observations of the everyday lives of undocumented families in Malmö, Sweden and Birmingham, UK, the text discusses the tension between how state actors frame parenthood in an irregular situation as ‘bad parenting’ and the experiences of undocumented children and their parents’ everyday lives. It further argues that the everyday struggles of undocumented children and their parents are interdependent and intergenerational expressions of everyday familial political agency. 

Most important results

– None of the families recognized themselves in the state’s arguments that suggest undocumented parents are putting their children at risk and are bad parents.

– ‘Motherwork in deportability consists to a large degree of navigating an impenetrable immigration system so that the parents can get the papers they need to be allowed to stay and work so that they can protect and provide for their family […] The interpretation skills and general know-how of bureaucratic functions of older children were central in this legal struggle. As a consequence, children also performed ‘motherwork’ for the benefit of the whole family as they supported their parents in resolving their legal cases […] Child-interpreters are one example of children’s capacity for agency that stems from an intergenerational interdependence where the parents are responsible for the family’s wellbeing, but are also dependent on their children to help them fulfil this task’ (p. 15). This further shows ‘how parental practices is not something that only parents can perform, but rather are performed by parents and children together with the aim of fulfilling the needs of the whole family’ (p. 16). 

– ‘The few resources that these families can draw upon for support from the host society derive primarily from legal provisions based on the deservingness and rights of the children. But the needs and struggles of the families are intergenerational, meaning that they are deeply connected and interdependent on every level, practically and emotionally. Parents as well as their children enact shifting intergenerational positions of care and responsibility through ‘motherwork’; a kind of emotional labour unrecognized by the state (p. 21).

– The unrecognized motherwork of undocumented parents, both mothers and fathers, expressed itself through the parents acting as, what I call, their own ‘humanitarian agents’ responsible for caring for the children when state support to the deserving, rights-bearing children is limited by the notion of the deportable migrant child. This humanitarian agency is expressed through motherwork and all these practices of both parents and their children, which contest the image of the parents as putting their children at risk, can be understood as familial political agency. Put in other words: Intergenerational parental practices, or motherwork, in an irregular situation are expressions of ‘activism’ or contestations against state understandings of undocumented parenthood as bad parenting through everyday life politics … Children’s rights are often seen as one of few available resources to draw upon when doing activist work for undocumented families. But by putting all the emphasis on individual children’s rights, and neglecting their intergenerational context, we run a risk of marginalising the human rights of both children as well as adults’ (p. 22).

Theoretical perspective/framework

Intergenerationality, the feminist concept of ‘motherwork’ and familial political agency.


Ethnographic fieldwork among undocumented families in Malmö, Sweden and Birmingham, UK between 2014 and 2017. Interviews with parents in 12 families in Sweden and 16 families in the UK who were, or had at some point experienced being, in an irregular situation. Interviews and participant observation with children in 12 of these families, 6 in each country. In Sweden the parents originated from Afghanistan, Albania and Kosovo and in the UK the parents originated mainly from former colonies such as Jamaica, Nigeria and India. 

Suggestions for further research

Future research on childhood and parenthood, as well as practice, policy and activist work for migrant rights from an approach that further contextualise the intergenerational aspect of rights, by analysing the (lack of) rights of parents in the light of the (extended) rights of their children and vice versa.

Summarized by: Alva Nissen