Guest post by Brandy Cochrane, doctoral candidate, Monash University, and Communication & Media Strategist for the Border Crossing Observatory. Brandy’s doctoral research focuses on pregnant women who travel irregularly in the face of hardened borders. She blogs about her research here and is on Twitter at @Brandy_Cochrane.

Women’s illegalized travel is on the rise as a result of specific border control policies. In the Australian context, where family reunification of refugees has been ended, women are increasingly making journeys with their children and husbands to Australia, as they do not want to be left behind. In the American example, the ending of cyclical migration across the US-Mexico border has caused growing numbers of men from Central and South America to settle permanently in the US. The outcome of this policy has resulted in more women and children making the dangerous journey across the border to reunite with husbands, fathers, and brothers.

(Source: G. Beals, UNHCR)
These types of policy developments have also increased the number of pregnant women undertaking migration journeys. The expanded numbers of pregnant women on the move may also be attributed to  their pregnancy itself. Expecting a child can be a powerful push factor for leaving situations where there is heightened risk of sexual violence, persecution, or where insecurity may occur, such as in war zones. Pregnancy can also be a consequence of migration. Within the research, there is acknowledged widespread prevalence of sexual assault during migration that could be a reason for the rise in pregnant women on the move.

The physical risks which migrants encounter, from drowning to dehydration in the desert, are not simply sad accidents or the result of unprepared states in the face of waves of migrants. These harms are the outcomes of state policies around the border. Referred to as ‘border hardening’ such policies include deterrent-based measures such as civil actions, disparate treatment, technological tools, and interventions outside geographical borders. This border hardening has an adverse effect on those who attempt to traverse this line with particular consequences for pregnant women.

Border hardening and deterrence is predicated on the belief that people make a cost/benefit analysis before undertaking their journey. It assumes migrants have the details of immigration policies of a destination country, have weighed up the impacts these immigration policies may have on their irregular migration status, have a choice about the destination country, and have determined the risks associated with border hardening to be acceptable.

Pregnancy can by a motivating factor to leave violent or dangerous situations, but what are the consequences of these journeys for women?

(Source: Reuters via DW)
Pregnant women are less likely to survive tragedies including hurricanes, boat disasters, and typhoon. Similarly the trauma, stress, and lack of food during journeys and detention en route or at the destination, may affect not only the health of the women who take the trip, but can also produce poor pregnancy outcomes.

Tragically, those who have undertaken dangerous journeys have been featured in the media in recent months. In the October 2013 tragedy where a boat sank off the shore of the Italian island of Lampedusa, at least two pregnant women were numbered among the recovered victims. One of the women, who was seven months pregnant, had gone into spontaneous birth during drowning and her body was recovered with her child attached by the umbilical cord. This story mirrors that of the SIEV X tragedy in 2001 where a survivor reported witnessing a similar scene during a sinking off the west coast of Java.

In Australia, despite Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s claims that there were no pregnant women in Australia’s immigration detention centres, in November 2013, a pregnant asylum seeker from one of Australia’s offshore detention centres on Nauru, was flown to Brisbane for a cesarean section for unannounced reasons.  Reports by Amnesty International and UNHCR have revealed that conditions on Nauru are not adequate for maternal health. Such conditions can have long-term effects for mother and child.

Other, legal restrictions are equally as damaging. Under Australian law, a child born in the country can become a citizen after ten years despite neither parent having citizenship. However, this right may not be guaranteed for those born in detention, as the Asylum Seeker Resource Center has reported, that no birth certificates have been issued. Instead babies born in detention were assigned the boat ID number on which their mother had arrived.  For pregnant women attempting to claim asylum, the dangerous journeys they undertake to protect themselves and their children, may leave them both stateless and without any of the guarantees offered by national and international law.

So how do pregnant women making these journeys negotiate their security, agency, and mobility in the face of border hardening? This question remains unanswered. What we do know is that if women are more in danger during migration and tragedies, these border control tactics are likely affecting pregnant women, and their unborn children, to a greater degree. Increased sexual violence during migration while pregnant, poor healthcare and physical conditions within detention centres for pregnant women, heightened maternal morbidity and mortality during complex humanitarian emergencies, and complicated pregnancy outcomes (including stillbirths and miscarriages) all flow from border hardening strategies. If we are to create proper protections, greater attention needs to be paid to them.

What I hope you will take away from this is two-fold. Firstly, pregnant women’s voices about migration need to be heard. I hope that my upcoming work with women will help to provide insight on this experience, but work in multiple fields is key in order to garner a full picture. Secondly, we need to question the countries in which we live. Do we want to be part of societies where human rights rank lower than so-called security? It is time to take action on multiple fronts to engage stake holders and policy makers with the goal of a more just world.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Cochrane, B. (2014) Expecting with Unexpected Consequences: Pregnant Women’s Encounters with Border Hardening. Available at: (accessed [date]).