Nursing professor leading international research to support vulnerable migrant children

Expanded research network in 12 countries will help health-care providers and policy-makers understand the conditions African children face before and after they come to Canada.

Bukola Salami Faculty of Nursing Professor and researcher

Nursing professor Bukola Salami is leading a multidisciplinary network of 32 researchers in 12 countries who are studying the conditions vulnerable migrant children face before and after journeying from Africa to Canada. (Photo: John Ulan)

Of more than 33 million international child migrants, most are from Africa and Asia, according to UNICEF estimates. Many carry with them the scarring trauma of war, gun violence, poverty and human trafficking. 

Some travel with their parents, some alone. But not much is known about how these children fare once displaced. As a result, their physical and mental health can suffer drastically—even in more prosperous countries of the global North, according to Bukola Salami, a researcher in the Faculty of Nursing who studies child migration.

Children migrating to Canada from Africa—especially East Africa—have among the poorest social, economic and health outcomes in the country, said Salami, who is also a member of the Women and Children's Health Research Institute. And while those from West Africa may have strong educational outcomes in their countries of origin, their prospects for employment are bleak once they arrive in Canada.

For those outcomes to improve, health-care providers and government policy makers need to know more about the conditions African children face both before and after migrating, argues Salami, principal investigator for the Health and Immigration Policies and Practices Research Program.

To fill that knowledge gap, she created the African Child and Youth Migration Network in 2018, aimed at compiling evidence on the health of migrant and displaced children in Africa and the global diaspora.

She has received $18,000 from the World Universities Network and $200,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to expand the network’s capacity. It now includes 32 researchers across academic disciplines—including six at the U of A—from Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

“This research and network will assist in developing useful knowledge to improve the lives of vulnerable migrant children, including child and youth victims of human trafficking and those exposed to gun violence,” said Salami.

“Everything we do is about African migrant children in the context of migration across the globe.”

So far the network has completed a review of “all available literature on African child migration,” she said. One published study looks at the health of internally displaced children living in sub-Saharan Africa. Forthcoming studies examine the reproductive and mental health of immigrant and refugee children from the region.

Salami is now analyzing data on internally displaced children in Ethiopia and is hoping to interview abandoned children who are forced to beg on the street or who languish in displacement camps in Ghana and Nigeria.

"Sexual and reproductive health care for people living in displacement camps basically doesn't exist in many cases," she said.

In Canada, she points out that of some 7.4 million foreign-born residents, more than 13 per cent originate from Africa.

“How can we in Canada provide a more positive environment to address some of the issues African migrants come here with?”

Once they arrive, “We need to address the broader social determinants of health, such as income, systemic discrimination and social support,” she said.

The network is now collecting data for vulnerable African migrant children in Canada, focusing especially on single-parent families, and those who have been separated and reunited.

“We're also looking at those with at least one family member who has been involved in gun violence. We want to see how we are doing compared to other countries, because we do have inequities in Canada.”

Her previous research has shown that Black children “talk a lot about the influence of anti-Black racism on their health.”

In addition to researching and disseminating knowledge about migrant children and youth, the network will mentor and train students and early-career researchers interested in improving their conditions.