Challenging the odds of vulnerability and resilience in lone migration: coping strategies of Zimbabwean unaccompanied minors in South Africa
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Childhood vulnerability attracts more societal and scholarly attention than child resilience. This article presents experiences of some Zimbabwean Unaccompanied Minors (ZUMs) in South Africa as an example of children who adapt to living as migrant minors separated from their parents. Using life history and aspiration interviews with eighteen ZUMs, we explore their coping strategies to test theoretical perceptions about childhood vulnerability and expand knowledge of how they are being affirmed and/or challenged. With research conducted in Makhado (Louis Trichardt), a non-border town in South Africa, the article highlights the nuances of ZUMs living in-shelter with catered needs versus ZUMs living out-of-shelter and fending for themselves. The interconnected effects of this on the children’s agency, vulnerability and resilience, now and potentially in future are also explored. In engaging the philosophy that some childhoods are inherently difficult, the study confirms that some ZUMs cope successfully despite being caught-up in tensions between structure-agency and vulnerability-resilience. The coping strategies of ZUMs reinforced some forms of vulnerability, while they camouflaged or silenced others. This cautions against the adoption of uncritical, or generic views about children’s agency and capabilities. The study concludes that individual and societal context matter greatly in discourses about child agency, vulnerability and resilience.