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Associate Professor Penny Crofts
University of Technology Sydney
Dr Honni van Rijswijk
University of Technology Sydney
Dr Anthea Vogl
University of Technology Sydney

The cult science fiction novel by M.R. Carey, The Girl with all the Gifts, begins with Melanie, a little girl, who goes to school, has friends, loves books and is highly intelligent. The novel depicts a dystopian future in which most of humanity was wiped out by a fungal infection twenty years ago. Melanie lives in an underground army base, is chained to her desk and is occasionally muzzled. Various characters respond to her differently – with love, contempt, caution and outright loathing. Doctor Caldwell regards Melanie as a test subject, who can and should be cut open (and killed) if it means finding a cure. Melanie is one of the second generation ‘hungries’ – children of infected people who have retained their mental powers.

Patricia Holland argued: ‘As the symbol of common humanity, a child may be the bearer of suffering with no responsibility for its cause.’ This paper interrogates the character of Melanie, as threat and promise, girl and monster, as a means to analyse the representation of the figure of the refugee child. The suffering/innocent refugee child has been a central figure in refugee law and politics, both in Australia and globally. The child, frequently stripped of other markers such as race and religion, is the simultaneously deserving and harmless focal point of liberal campaigning against systemically harmful refugee policies. This paper  contributes to debates  about the politics and ethics of how to represent suffering and interrogates the implications of humanitarian campaigns that attempt to cut through legal, cultural and social apathy through centring the refugee child.

Dr Penny Crofts is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, UTS. Penny is currently researching “Rethinking Corporate Liability: Criminal Law, Horror and Philosophy” funded by an ARC DECRA.

Dr Honni van Rijswijk is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. She received her PhD from the University of Washington, where she was a Fellow in the Society of Scholars at the Simpson Center for the Humanities. She has published on feminist theories of harm, formulations of responsibility in law and literature, the role of history in the common law, and on questions of justice relating to the Stolen Generations. Honni is currently writing a monograph, Law and the Girl: Gender, Genre, Violence.

Dr Anthea Vogl is a lecturer in law at the University of Technology Sydney. Her research addresses refugee and migration law, with a particular focus on the use of administrative powers to regulate refugees and non-citizens. Anthea is a current University of Technology Sydney Early Career Researcher Fellow and lectures in Administrative Law, Legal Theory and Refugee Law & Practice.

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