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Undocumented children and the right to education: illusory right or empowering lever?

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In migration control policies, social rights are often restricted in order to discourage immigration. The right to education seems to be the exception to the rule. This paper examines whether the right to education – beyond legal technical questions of the personal scope of application of human rights treaties, and the nature and the meaning of the right – is able to provide empowering leverage to undocumented children, or rather remains a lofty ideal on paper. Empirical data are drawn from the Belgian situation. Sociological research has shown that while quantitative educational democratisation has been highly successful, qualitative educational democratisation remains problematic. With regard to undocumented children, real-life limitations to school access (both individual and institutional), as well as psycho-social and institutional impediments during the schooling process seriously limit equal schooling and life opportunities. Unequal responses to organisational and pedagogical challenges that the presence of mobile students puts to schools, reinforce institutional factors of educational inequality for undocumented children. A key factor in understanding the tension between the legal recognition of the human right to education and daily realities is the outright contradiction between the approaches towards education on the one hand, and to migration more generally on the other hand. The latter is increasingly dominated by a securisation ideology.

Affiliations: 1: University of Antwerp Law Research School, UNICEF Chair in Children's Rights; 2: Groupe Interfacultaire de Recherche sur la Socialisation, l'Education et la Formation (GIRSEF), Université Catholique de Louvain; 3: Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies (CeMIS), University of Antwerp; 4: Institute of Education and Information Sciences, University of Antwerp; 5: Law and Development Research Group, University of Antwerp Law Research School; 6: Institute of Education and Information Sciences (CeMIS), University of Antwerp; 7: Professor of Sociology, Groupe Interfacultaire de Recherche sur la Socialisation, l'Education et la Formation (GIRSEF), Université Catholique de Louvain


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