"We have to learn for ourselves" Participation of unaccompanied minors in a Finnish reception center

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According to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, every child has a right to be heard and to be taken seriously in all matters concerning him or her. Participation is a right of all children and youth in Finland, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Although promoting child- and youth participation in reception centers is challenging, it is important especially for children coming from the most difficult circumstances. The asylum process is long and frustrating, and without enough meaningful activities, the waiting time can harm the development and the mental health of the children.

This paper examines how under-age units of reception centers can work as institutions of nonformal education towards participation; what kind of participation do the unaccompanied minors want, and how can it be promoted? The article is based on a participatory action research (PAR) project with seven 14-17 year-old unaccompanied girls and their counselors. The results show that many girls preferred strong adult-guidance and security over active participation. However, most girls wanted to take more responsibility for daily tasks in little steps, with gradually decreasing adult help.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)12-21
Number of pages10
JournalSiirtolaisuus - Migration
VolumeSupplement 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • unaccompanied minors
  • Participation
  • Children's rights

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