This article has been developed by Anna Bartalini and Emma Santanach.

What is ageism and what is its relation with unaccompanied minors and youth in Spain? The link lies in discrimination. On the occasion of International Youth Day, we talk about the challenges faced by this collective and how Open Cultural Center’s project Youth 4 All seeks to address this situation. 

International Youth Day is celebrated every year on the 12th of August, after being instituted by the United Nations in 2010. Its mission is to bring youth issues to the attention of the international community and to promote the potential of youths as key protagonists of society. This year’s theme, Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages, endorses the idea that collaborative actions are needed across all generations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). However, intergenerational solidarity actions are not easy to implement, also because of “ageism”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ageism as the stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination directed towards others or oneself based on age. Ageism can be directed toward younger and older people, and it’s an unrecognized phenomenon that can have far-reaching consequences for the people affected. It acts as an obstacle to fostering collaboration and solidarity among age groups, as it also intersects with other forms of bias. In the case of unaccompanied minors and youth, discrimination based on age intertwines with racist bias, creating barriers in various spheres of their lives such as employment, political participation, health and justice. 

In Spain, unaccompanied minors and youth – children and adolescents who have arrived alone in the country after having been separated from their parents – are a highly discriminated component of youths. The last data on their presence in the country is related to 2019. ACCEM reports that in June of that year there were a total of 12,301 unaccompanied migrant minors counted in Spain by the Ministry of Interior. The fact that there are no more current data available shows that it is still a controversial topic in Spanish society.

Several are the stereotypes associated with unaccompanied minors in the common imagination. As outlined by ACCEM, the generalization in the public sphere of the technical term MENA (“Menores Extranjeros No Acompañados”) has led to their dehumanization and criminalization. In Spain, the general understanding is that unaccompanied migrant children are mostly coming from the Maghreb countries and, in particular, Morocco and Algeria, but this doesn’t represent the truth. Unaccompanied minors also come from Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

These children and adolescents are constantly exposed to social exclusion and discrimination. In Catalonia, they receive support from different entities that collaborate with the Àrea de Suport als Joves Tutelats i Extutelats (ASJTET). However, when they turn 18 they don’t encounter enough resources to guarantee their transition to adult life.

For this reason, according to Youth 4 All’s Project Manager Helena Picó, unaccompanied minors and youths have to face adulthood “much earlier than the rest of the population of their age”. As Picó explains, “their situation is very complex. They may have suffered from abuse, instability, or a reduced social network in which to find support. Because of this, they find themselves in a more vulnerable situation than the rest of the population, and this the transition to adult life comes earlier and forced”.

In this sense, OCC’s Youth 4 All project aims to become a solution to this harsh reality, by emancipating and empowering young people in rural areas. Through this initiative, OCC provides housing to young people who arrived in Spain as unaccompanied minors but have already turned 18. The first edition of the project has included training in digital and agricultural skills, as well as language classes, social skills sessions, equine therapy, and volunteering activities. 

The aim is not only to facilitate the social and labour inclusion of this collective in rural areas across the territory but also to contribute to the highly needed generational renewal of the agricultural sector. This makes intergenerational connection one of the main approaches of the project, which has the potential to break many of the barriers that this collective faces.  So far, this has been true: at the moment, five of the eight participating youths have already found a job! 

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