Transition to adulthood among african immigrant adolescents in Western countries: evidence from a qualitative study in Montreal, Canada

Nathalie Mondain, Université d'Ottawa
Solene Lardoux, Université de Montréal
Simona Bignami, Université de Montréal
Amélie A. Gagnon, Université de Montréal

African immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon in Canada. The living conditions and arrangements of African migrants to Canada are thus poorly known compared to those of migrants from European countries. In this paper, we examine how first generation young immigrants from francophone African countries in Montreal have been experiencing their transition to adulthood. As we explore their perceptions of what becoming adult means, we focus specifically on one key issue in adolescents’ transition to adulthood: their sexual debut and its potential reproductive health outcomes. The present study is based on qualitative interviews (focus groups and individual in-depth interviews) that were carried out with a sample of first generation African immigrants and a control group of native born French Canadians whose families were settled in the country for at least 3 generations. All interviews targeted adolescents aged 16-30 years, and many community social and health workers. The individual interviews followed a life course approach, which allows gaining insight into adolescents’ migration, family, school and sexual trajectories. In total, we carried out 23 focus groups with adolescents and 4 focus groups with their parents, as well as 30 and 22 individual interviews with adolescents and their parents, respectively. Our results show that, compared to their Montreal’s native peers, immigrants grew up with different values regarding intergenerational relationships, gender roles, romantic relationships and sexual behaviors. As a consequence, a cultural shock may occur as immigrants have to deal with these problems, often leading to conflicts within their families. Yet the generational “balance of power” within the immigrants’ families is generally maintained, thus protecting them from risky social behaviors (drugs, alcohol, violence, etc.). However, because sexuality remains a taboo generally stronger in these communities than in the host society, immigrant adolescents’ knowledge, access and use of reproductive health services may be hindered.

Presented in Session 37: Demographic Determinants of Child Welfare