Unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents: the glaring contrast between a legal and a psychological perspective

Int J Law Psychiatry. Aug-Sep 2008;31(4):319-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2008.06.006. Epub 2008 Jul 21.


Unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents are a vulnerable group: they live not only in a relatively difficult situation as minor refugees staying in another country, but also face other risks due to the absence of their parents, such as traumatic experiences, exploitation or abuse. The difficult living situation of these unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents might therefore threaten their emotional well-being, resulting in important emotional and behavioural problems. This 'psychological' perspective shows the necessity of a strongly elaborated reception and care system for these children and adolescents in order to meet their specific situation and needs. Nevertheless, the case study of unaccompanied refugee minors living in Belgium, as explored in this paper, shows that the legal perspective on these youths - considering them as 'refugees' and 'migrants', not as 'children' - is predominantly the starting point to build the care system on. Moreover, this legal perspective contrasts sharply with the psychological perspective, as such that these children and adolescents do not receive appropriate support and care as they need.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Belgium / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Legal Guardians / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Life Change Events*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Minors / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Minors / psychology
  • Refugees / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Torture / psychology
  • Transients and Migrants / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology
  • Warfare