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Forced transnationalism: family separation and the children of migrants



Contemporary Cultures and Societies seminar series

Presented by Associate Professor Helen Lee, La Trobe University

Children often have no choice in decisions that lead to separation from their families in the context of migration. This paper draws together a disparate literature on children and migration to compare several forms of separation that result in children’s ‘forced transnationalism’. These include ‘left behind’ children, children sent overseas to school and migrants’ children sent to their parents’ homeland. While there are some common effects on children there is a crucial difference between separation motivated by long-term goals for the family and movement aimed at influencing an individual child’s behaviour. The latter form of movement is discussed through a case study of children sent to Tonga as a form of punishment. The paper considers forced transnationalism in relation to the twin concerns of recent work on childhood and youth: agency and rights.

Helen Lee is an Associate Professor of Anthropology in the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University. Since the 1980s her research has focused on the people of Tonga, both in their home islands in the South Pacific and in the diaspora, particularly in Australia. Her doctoral research on Tongan childhood was published in 1996 as Becoming Tongan: an ethnography of childhood (Helen Morton, University of Hawaii Press). Helen’s more recent work has been with the Tongan diaspora (see Tongans overseas: between two shores, 2003, UHP), including research on second generation Tongan transnationalism. Her edited book Ties the homeland: second generation transnationalism was published in 2008 (Cambridge Scholars Publishing) and she co-edited with Steve Tupai Francis Migration and transnationalism: Pacific perspectives (2009, ANU E-Press). The key themes of Helen’s research have been children and youth, cultural identity and migration and transnationalism.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012 | 5.15 - 7.00pm

Faculty Function Room, Fifth Floor, John Medley Building

Location map

Registration opens on Thursday, 1 March and closes on Wednesday, 18 April 2012.

Contact Erin Eades in the School of Social and Political Sciences at or 8344 6564.

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