The role of political regulations in mental health and wellbeing

As part of my PhD project, I explore design solutions for technology enabled interventions promoting resilience in unaccompanied migrant youth (UMY). During my research, I realized more and more how much political regulations impact the living circumstances and thereby the mental wellbeing of the UMY. 

For the same reason, several NGOs claim legal changes having regard to the best interests of the child [8, 4]. In November 2017, I also visited a seminar organized by the Austrian NGO Asylkoordination about asylum procedure of UMY and the content of the seminar encouraged my opinion.

As I have hardly any influence on these political decisions, I often feel quite frustrated. I can imagine volunteers and NGO staff who support UMY feel similarly frustrated. Thus, I decided to talk about this issue in my blog post and demonstrate with the help of two examples how political regulations and implementation have a high impact on UMY’s wellbeing.

For instance, one questionable part of the asylum procedure is the determination of age. If the Austrian officials doubt that the asylum seeker is beyond 18 and that their documents are forged, the person has to undertake several medical tests. The tests include among other things X-rays of various bones and the examination of the genitals. Critic argues that there is an error of at least 2 years [2]. Even if the UMY can refuse to attend the tests, they are in a difficult position as their main aim is to receive asylum from the authorities. According to some doctors, the age determination and especially the X-rays tests attack upon the physical integrity of a person [7]. When I asked some of the youth after their age as part of my studies, they told me that they have two birth dates – one which is valid for the youth welfare office and one which is valid for the state. In my opinion, the determination of age is unneeded and costs tax money. In addition, according to UN, youth is until the age of 24 [9] and most of the UMY have to catch up with the Austrian youth in a very short of time as they have not received the same education.

In addition, the seminar leaders discussed several examples where the interpretation of implementation of well-intended laws is questionable. For instance, in case of the parental custody the ABGB of Austria (§ 204) states that if neither parents or grandparents can be entrusted the long-term care of the children, the national care has to entrust the parental custody to a qualified person in respect of the best interests of the child. Thus, older siblings who are just above 18 but still a young adult can become the parental custody. The parental custody includes care, upbringing and legal representation of the children. If the adult sibling struggles with coping with the cultural differences, the asylum procedure, education and work, the parental custody may be especially overwhelming. Additionally, being the legal representation in a foreign country is much more challenging for family members than for a local person speaking the same language. However, a lot of relatives accept the responsibility as otherwise the children and adults will be separated. I think it is questionable if this procedure is in respect of the best interests of the child. In Austria, a 11-year-old boy killed himself. His 23-year old brother was parental custody of his six siblings and critics argue that authorities should have taken their time to review each case [1;5]. In another case, an 18-year old man has parental custody of two girls suffering from cancer. As he is unable to cope with the situation, he asked the authorities to take over the parental custody. However, the authorities refuse taking over the parental custody as he is according to their opinion an adult [6]. Personally, I do not understand why the UMY cannot have a local as a legal guard and at the same time live with their relatives which would be much better for their wellbeing.

These are only a few examples of political regulations and implementation which have a high impact on the wellbeing of UMY and their grown-up siblings which according to UN are youth [9]. All in all, I think it is important that politics deciding about laws and authorities applying these laws always keep in mind that the people affected by these regulations are humans and in the case of UMY even children and youth which are very vulnerable and in a foreign country without parental support.

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  1. Brickner, I. (2017, November 22). Woran die Obsorge für Flüchtlingskinder krankt. Der Standard. Retrieved from
  2. Feltz, V. (2015). Age assessment for unaccompanied minors. When European countries deny their childhood. Doctors of the Word – Médecins du monde International Network. Retrieved from
  3. Jakobsen, M., DeMott, M. A. M., Wentzel-Larsen, T., & Heir, T. (2017). The impact of the asylum process on mental health: a longitudinal study of unaccompanied refugee minors in Norway. BMJ open, 7(6), doi:e015157.
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  5. Kroisleitner, O. & Minkin, C. (2017, November 20). Kritik an Obsorge von Flüchtlingskindern nach Tod von Elfjährigen. Der Standard. Retrieved from
  6. Meinhart, E. (2017, February 13) “Deutlich sichtbare Irritationen”. Profil. Retrieved from
  7. Mohnike, Klaus (2013). Angriff auf die körperliche Unversehrtheit. Flüchtlingsrat. Retrieved from
  8. Pro Asyl (2011). Kinderrechte für Flüchtlingskinder ernst nehmen! Gesetzlicher Änderungsbedarf aufgrund der Rücknahme der Vorbehalte zur UN-Kinderrechtskonvention. Retrieved from
  9. Secretary-General’s Report to the General Assembly, A/36/215, 1981