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PhD research: looking at law through children’s eyes

In 2015, after a successful crowdfinding campaign Marieke Hopman started her PhD research on children’s rights, based on this proposal. The study, titled “Looking at law through children’s eyes”, was finished in 2019. You can find the free PDF version here. An improved book version was published in 2021 with Intersentia. During the PhD research Marieke wrote some blogs and vlogs about its theoretical content as well as the PhD process. You can find these publications below.

By Marieke Hopman - 23 July 2019

Just in case you’ve been wondering about the recent quiet on the Research on Children’s Rights front: that’s because of this little man coming into the world! Our son Samuel was born last Friday. He’s doing really well and we’re very happy!

Meanwhile I have been working on some things, such as a book proposal to publish a moderated version of the PhD with an academic publisher, the start-up of a new research project on children’s development rights, and leading the newly established Maastricht Platform for Community-Engaged Research, which will be launched in October.

So more to come soon, but for now, a focus on one child in particular 

By Marieke Hopman - 20 May 2019

Dear all,

I’m very happy to hereby freely publish the e-book of my PhD research “Looking at Law Through Children’s Eyes”, free and available for all! Below on the left you find the e-book, on the right the PDF. The e-book was made possible thanks to the sponsoring and support of printing company

Please note that this research was made possible through the financial support of the Maastricht University Children’s Rights Research Fund. To enable future children’s rights research, especially impactful research that involves child participation, we need to raise further funding. So while the book is presented to you for free, please consider making a donation to the Children’s Rights Research Fund.

By Marieke Hopman - 26 February 2019

Dear all,

It has been a while since I last updated you on the children’s rights research project, for which I apologize. This is due mostly due to the fact that I have been very busy finishing up the PhD. Last week, I finally sent it to the reading committee. The professors in this committee will over the coming weeks read the thesis and together decide whether or not they think it is good enough to award a PhD degree. If they do, I will have to publicly defend the PhD on 9 May 2019 (provisional date).

If you’re interested, here you can find the PhD’s table of contents, and here you can find the overview of social impact activities of the complete PhD project until 2019. 

What else happened? I would say two major events deserve an update. First, intern Ambra Borne went to Geneva to tell the delegations of several countries about our research on the child’s right to nationality in the TRNC. You can read about her experiences here. During this visit, Ambra met with many country delegations who she told about the rights of children in the TRNC, hoping that in January they would ask questions about this situation during the review of Cyprus. And during the January UPR session we found out that this had been very effective! Several countries recommended Cyprus to ensure non-discriminatory application of Cypriot nationality law, and some specifically referred to the rights of children.

A second major event is the following: as you may remember, last summer I decided to take some time to write a proposal for NWO funding for a four year research project. Last December we learned that this proposal, about the development rights of children living in conflict situations, has been awarded a grant!! In total, the sum for the project is € 788.666. In terms of theory and methodology, this project will be a follow-up of the PhD research, whereby in order to understand children’s rights violations, an understanding of all norms involved (legal & non-legal) will become part of the picture (see images at the right). Through this framework, children’s development rights will be researched in four different countries, together with several NGO partners and local research.

These changes of course mean that my mission of researching children’s rights will continue, while it will also change shape and form. I am hoping for more people to become involved, so that the project can grow, slowly, and more people will be educated and learn to research children’s rights by looking at law through children’s eyes. I believe there is a lot we can do in the world and it has only just started!

Some practical changes, for example in terms of finances as well as working with partners and other researchers, will have to take shape over the coming months. I promise to update you again soon. But first, I am going to enjoy my upcoming HOLIDAY :-)!

At the UN in Geneva

By Marieke Hopman - 18 June 2018

Dear all, As I wrote to you in March, since I am in the last phase of the PhD research, the time has come to look beyond and see what I can do next. It is a bit of a two-faced experience; on the one hand, I want to focus all my attention to reporting on and bringing attention to the TRNC case study, and to finishing the PhD book. On the other hand, I have to think about my next project, for otherwise I am going to find myself without work once the PhD is finished.

With Nobel Peace Prize-nominee Jaha Dukureh, discussing Female Genital Mutiliation

It is not so much about me having a job as it is about being able to continue my research on children’s rights. I honestly feel like I have only just started, and there is a sound basis yet also so much more work still needs to be done! However, to be able to do so, I need at least a basic income and some kind of institutional support. Basically: I need a contract. In March I told you I’d applied for a job at the law faculty where I now work, for a position of empirical legal researcher, which I thought could be a good way in. Unfortunately, I was not even invited for an interview. So now what? Although I know I have some research money left and I also have some opportunities to raise more, I just don’t know exactly what shape or form to give it all. I started looking for external opportunities (mostly job openings at other universities). At the same time, I worked together with my intern on processing the data from the TRNC case, we wrote a recommendation (UPR) to the UN Human Rights Committee which we are hoping to submit together with two NGOs, and I finished the three courses/projects I was teaching.

Then two new opportunities presented itself; on the one hand, I was asked to teach certain courses next semester for my department. As part of this would fall outside of my current contract, they would have to give me one. It’s not yet clear what shape or form this would take – a teaching-only contract was an option, but I refused that because I want to do research. Then, secondly, I was approached by some other colleagues about a research proposal; apparently, Maastricht University has the opportunity to apply for funding with NWO on a program that is specifically meant for interdisciplinary research on SDGs (“Sustainable Development Goals”). First I was asked if I wanted to join as a post-doc researcher, to spend my time researching legal education in different low- and middle income countries. I said no, because I want to study children’s rights. Later, they came back to me and offered the opportunity to write a proposal myself. What a chance!!! I proposed the subject of “children’s rights in unrecognized states” and the team agreed. So I decided to throw around my whole schedule – because the deadline for the proposal is in September -, to delay the PhD by a month and spend a month on this proposal. The best thing about this call is that not only does it give a chance to do this kind of valuable research, but it also gives a budget for implementation of the research results!! The worst thing about it is that even if you spend a lot of time writing a good proposal, it might get turned down.

In this proposal, I have to decide how much time I’d like to spend on the project and how much time I might want to spend on teaching, management, communication (writing these blogs, for example). It is all quite overwhelming and to be honest, at the moment I don’t really know which way to go from here. This also because many things are uncertain, and I haven’t even given you the full picture yet – I am also written into another research proposal and may get a post-doc position there, I am also asked to teach several courses, some of which directly, some “maybe”, and this has to be decided around now, the university board is also considering a proposal which I wrote with a team for a Platform which, if granted, I would manage… -. Today I went for a long bike ride, to calm down and clear my mind. I did not find an answer yet, but what I did realize is this: any decision I take has to be guided by my mission: to support children all over the world. More specifically: to use research to understand why children are made to suffer at the hands of authorities (operationalized as “situations where children’s rights are violated”) and what can be done about this; and: through research, to make the voices heard of the most invisible, marginalized children in this world.

Last meeting with “my” team of MA students (I mentored them) who researched the child’s right to education in the NL for children without legal residence permit. Next month they will present their report to NGO Defence for Children.

My mission is not to please my bosses. It is not to be liked by colleagues. It is not to bring money to the institution. It is not to become a successful academic (at least not in the classical sense). It is not to earn a lot of money. These may be side-effects, and maybe pleasant side-effects, but they are not the goal. I want to make a change. I want to use research to understand why children are made to suffer at the hands of authorities. And it should be that mission guiding me in the tricky choices that I will have to make over the coming months.

With Nobel Peace Prize-nominee Jaha Dukureh, discussing Female Genital Mutiliation

Did a nice 25min interview about my research on children’s rights, on national radio (Radio 1)!

Information about children’s rights in unrecognized states

Last meeting with “my” team of MA students

By Marieke Hopman - 3 April 2018

March has been a very intense month, both in highs and lows. Quite a few good things happened (most strikingly I won a prize and was interviewed by two national newspapers) but I felt like I didn’t really have the time to enjoy any of it, because things have been very busy. This is of course completely my own fault because I am so excited about the research, and I find it terribly hard to say no when interesting opportunities come up. And so at some point, namely right now, I find myself running around as, like the Dutch say, “a chicken with no head”. I feel guilty for not being able to give the attention to my family and friends that they deserve, for not taking care of the household, for not doing my work up to standard because of no time…So I started making a plan for 2018, and now I feel back on top of my game (and I will start saying no!).

Also: coming month I will be applying for a position that has come up at the Maastricht University Law Faculty, namely the position of empirical legal researcher. If I do get this job, this might mean that the financial situation of the project changes. Ideally, in that case, I would get the university to pay for the last part of the PhD, and I would be able to use the money still in the fund to create many new research projects on children’s rights. More on this next month…

  • Spent a week in the field, doing research on the child’s right to a nationality (Ambra stayed the whole month)
  • Good news: I am selected to be one of the new KNAW Faces of science!
  • Was interviewed by national newspaper Trouw twice; one time about homeschooling in the Netherlands (my first casestudy), which is on the rise, and once about what is necessary for education in the Central African Republic, and where donor money goes (my second case study)
  • Have been selected to speak at the Conference on Law & Development at Leiden University
  • So far the proposal for a Maastricht Platform for Community-Engaged Research, of a working group that I am leading, is getting support from almost all deans of Maastricht University. Will send it to the university board next week…fingers crossed!
  • My draft article on CAR’s legal orders was rejected by a peer-reviewed journal. The reviewer wrote, among other things, that it seemed like possibly my sampling of respondents was flawed and that s/he ‘at times could not help feeling that the results had been retrofitted to the author’s prior conclusions’. A terrible insult! Of course I had no prior conclusion before going into the CAR (if anything, my hypothesis was that there would be many different legal orders influencing the child’s right to education – which didn’t turn out to be the case)… But the reviewer’s remark might tell me something about how I wrote it all down. Perhaps not clear enough. For now, I have sent the paper in to another peer-reviewed journal, let’s see what they say…
  • Together with Dorris Devocht I am trying to understand how Dutch judges decide whether to try young defendants (age 16-23) according to juvenile or adult criminal law. I totally underestimated how messy this is both in law, in theory and in practice, and consequently how much time and energy analysis takes. See screenshot for only one of many excel sheets…

By Marieke Hopman - 7 March 2018

Dear all,

As promised, I intend to write a monthly update on the ups & downs of the research. So here’s February’s report! Some general developments: the Marble project ended and the Premium project, a new student research project on children’s rights, began. The Premium students will be doing research on access to education for undocumented migrants in the Netherlands. I am mentoring this research project, which I initiated together with NGO Defence for Children.

Other than that, February was mostly a month of writing academic articles (I wrote one completely and started two others), and of starting collaborations around sharing the research on the child’s right to nationality.


  • Spending a week in Denmark, having time to completely focus on writing an article. Sent it to a journal at the end of the month. Title: “Wait, What are We Fighting About? – Kelsen, Ehrlich and the Reconciliation of Normative Jurisprudence and Sociology of Law”
  • Started collaborative work on two other articles; one with Catalina Goanta on legal orders and blockchain, one with Dorris deVocht on the child/adolescent distinction in Dutch criminal law. So inspiring to work together! (Also I need publications to be able to continue the research I want to do after PhD…)
  • Had a very successful PhD event, “PhD stories” organized by my colleague Madalena Narciso. We came up with this idea because we wanted more senior researchers to share their struggles, ups & downs during their PhD.
  • Shared the research on child’s right to nationality at Tilburg University and ISS in the Hague. They came up with great ideas, feedback, we established future cooperation, and so lovely to see both Laura van Waas (TiU) and Jan Pronk (ISS) again!
  • Made good progress on the proposal for a “Maastricht Platform for Community-Engaged Research”. Added a few new people to the working group – which is definitely looking like an A-team now :-)! 
  • The video of my Pecha Kucha talk “Going Back, Sharing Research, Making a Difference?” was published online. Not sure if I’m happy with the result – looks like I wanted to say too much in too little time.
  • Premium project had a difficult start; one student dropped out before we first met due to personal issues, another fainted several times during our first meeting and had to be picked up by an ambulance. The difficulty is that these talented students do the project in addition to their normal courses, for which they also want to get the best grades. So it gives them a lot of stress. I told the people who selected the students, that maybe they should take mental health in consideration more when selecting. They told me as a mentor I should give them more trust…

Clearly, February was a good month!

Premium students meeting Marble students for lunch, to share experiences of doing research on children’s rights

Selfie with Prof. Dr. Jan Pronk (also former minister/UN special servant)

Update: January’s ups & downs

By Marieke Hopman - 22 February 2018

Dear all!

I just wanted to write a quick message because I have not been sharing much lately. In my last message on New Year’s Eve, I told you about my plans for 2018. This was right before, while cooking dinner, I seriously cut my left middle finger, to an extent that I had to go to the hospital and even today I am still typing with 9 fingers. (Not that the finger had to come off! – I just lost feeling in the tip which makes typing quite difficult..).

Also, I realized that I have a tendency of sharing only the good news around the research. Of course, especially since most of you also financially supported the research, I want to show you that your money is being put to good use! But in the interest of sharing, I would like to share both successes and failures more. So here’s January’s ups and downs:


  • teaching philosophy of law at the university of Hasselt for the first time
  • writing a first draft of a plan for a “society-engaged research platform” and finding others who are interested
  • rounding off the Marble project with all 5 students in a really positive way
  • getting more of a hang of my new role as PhD representative
  • sent in an article on legal orders in CAR and did not get a negative reply back (yet)


  • scheduled three media interviews about the case study in CAR, did two and so far only one seems to get published..
  • had a difficult work conflict, that kept me up quite a few nights and made me feel very small
  • started teaching logic to MA lawyers, also for the first time – it seems to be going well, but I do feel quite insecure about it..
  • starting to feel stressed out about whether or not I will be able to stay in academia after the PhD
All in all, more ups then down! More soon.
If you are not already, please follow the project’s Facebook page for regular, shorter updates..!

By Marieke Hopman - 31 December 2017

Dear all,

A few hours before the new year kicks off is a great time to look both back and ahead. What happened for the children’s rights research project in 2017, and what should be the next step?

In short, 2017 was the year of trying to both creating a place at Maastricht University for children’s rights, as well as travelling for field research and sharing research results.
Some of the highlights:

  • Finished the research in the Central African Republic, published a research report on the child’s right to education in the CAR and traveled back to share these results
  • Gave a key note lecture for about 100 employees of the municipality of Amsterdam who are starting a program to get all children into schools
  • Gave lectures for UNICEF, African Study Center, SOAS London (among others) and taught a masterclass about children’s rights
  • Published the academic article “Lipstick Law
  • Created, together with artist Daan Draait and Maastricht University, a theater play about the case study in CAR
  • Recruited a team of students with whom, in 6 months, we conducted two field researches on the child’s right to nationality and hosted a successful crowdfunding campaign (if you still want to contribute, you can do so here!)
  • Won € 3000 in the action research competition

For 2018, the first plan is to write the PhD book and have a first draft ready at the end of the year. But of course that is not nearly enough. Ideally, I also want to:

  • Teach 3 university courses (to raise money and teach children’s rights and critical thinking)
  • Perform the CAR theater play in different schools and discuss the case with the students
  • Be a good mentor for a successful PREMIUM project on children’s rights to education in the Netherlands, in cooperation with NGO Defence for Children
  • Publish a research report and travel back to share the results of the third case study
  • Raise € 20.000 for the children’s rights research fund
  • Publish at least one academic article
  • Acquire my University Teacher Qualification
  • Start preparing the way for a continuation of children’s rights research after the PhD…

So those are (some of the) plans for 2018. But for now, I want to thank you for making all this work possible, and mostly I want to wish you all a very happy and ambitious New Year!!

With the student team and guest speaker at the kick-off of the crowdfunding campaign


By Marieke Hopman - 12 September 2017

The new field research on the child’s right to nationality has officially begun! As we are dealing with a politically sensitive matter, we will not be posting on social media. So, click here to sign up for updates! We are excited to share our experiences with you.

Overview of income and costs 2014-2016

By Marieke Hopman - 28 April 2017

Dear all,

Hereby I would like to share an overview with you of the income and costs of the research project so far. As you can see, most of the project money comes from teaching and project coordination – this is work that I do, in exchange for which an organization donates money to the research fund. An important contribution comes from donations – for which I am so greatful!!

The money is mostly spent on the research’s scholarship (a monthly amount of € 1.630. This amount will stay the same for the whole research period, amounting to yearly > € 2.500 less net income than a regular PhD student). Travel costs and other costs include all costs for the two field research cases (hotel, flights, vaccinations, costs for translation, etc) as well as some costs made for the research, such as buying books. For a more detailed overview of all the costs, see:

If you want to support research on children’s rights, you can fill in a donation form here.

Published: Lipstick Law!

By Marieke Hopman - 13 April 2017

Dear all,

I am very happy to announce that a piece of the theoretical framework of my research  – in which I plea for an understanding of laws not just by studying legal codes, but also to look at the (sovereign) rules that dictate people’s lives – has been published in the Journal of Legal Pluralism!

You can read the article for free here. Don’t forget to check out the acknowledgments section!

And a short further update: the next 2 weeks I will both finishing the report on education in CAR, as well as the academic article on laws in CAR. After I hope to send you an extensive newsletter with updates on latest activities, upcoming things and a financial report over 2016. So, you will hear from me soon!

Moving the research part II – the solution!

By Marieke Hopman - 27 July 2016

Dear all,

As you probably know because I have been writing about this before, getting the research institutionalized has been more difficult than anticipated. Although we ran a great crowdfunding campaign with my colleagues of Tilburg university funds, and I worked together satisfactorily with the Wetenschapsknooppunt Brabant and INTERVICT Institute, there was no possibility at Tilburg University to use the money I raised to work as a PhD student, or even to use the money for research purposes.

I then applied at the ISS in the Hague (which falls under Erasmus University). After an intense selection process I was very proud and happy to be allowed to enter their PhD program. However, they had one condition: that I would work with two internal ISS supervisors and therefore not with prof. Rianne Letschert anymore, who has been my supervisor from the beginning. Which is something I really did not want because I love working with prof. Letschert. She is very good, sharp, intelligent, she teaches me so much, and she supports me and the project even if I make difficult choices such as doing crowdfunding or going to a war-affected area to do field research.

So for a while I did not know what to do next, and we were talking to universities abroad to perhaps set up a construction of cooperation – but then, Prof. Letschert got a phonecall and one day I’m in her office and she tells me she will be the new rector magnificus of Maastricht University!! (Incidentally, thereby becoming the youngest female rector magnificus in the Netherlands EVER). So cool.

So then we started talking to Maastricht and see if I could move my research project there. Last monday I had a last meeting on this and it looks like it all is working out!!! I can hardly believe it. So after 1,5 year after we started the crowdfunding it looks like finally this month I will receive my first scholarship allowance and an allowance for research expenses. The people in Maastricht so far have been extremely friendly, cooperative and enthusiastic about the project. With the head of the fundraising and alumni department I have already cooked up some fundraising plans for the future, and the people at the law faculty have been most supportive in figuring out the best way to work with past and future financial constructions.

All in all I am super happy that FINALLY this thing has been solved and I am moving the project to an inspiring and positive environment where I think it can prosper (of course, still depending on my hard work and quality of the research – which is yet another thing I will post about again soon :-)).

Next step: leaving for the Central African Republic this tuesday!!

Moving the research

By Marieke Hopman - 29 October 2015

For those of you who have followed my financial plan for the research (see: this video), there is some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that in addition to the latest crowdfunding, through other means (mostly teaching) I have now raised an additional € 45.000 – so the fundraising is going strong!

The bad news is that Tilburg University has changed their plans for PhD scholarship students. Their idea was to pilot a program where PhDs are allowed to be students instead of employees (a construction that saves a LOT of money). I would participate in this pilot. However, now they decided to cancel these plans. As a consequence, I would have to raise more than 2x as much money as foreseen, as a PhD employee contract is much more expensive (mostly due to taxes and social security fees).

Of course I do not want to transfer about 60% of donations coming in to the tax office, so I am looking for alternative solutions. The best so far is to cooperate with another academic institution, which I am hoping to be the ISS in the Hague (see their website). This institution, the home base of my second supervisor Prof. Dr. Jan Pronk, is an amazing institution that in addition to academic quality values highly engagement in public debate. In this sense it therefore perfectly suits my research project and I would be lucky to work with them.

The difficult part is that ISS sets very high standards for their PhD students. So I again have to go through a process of application, re-write my research proposal, collect references, take an English (TOEFL) test. Secondly, to work at ISS I will need a new first professor (as Prof. Pronk is an emeritus professor). To this purpose, I have been in contact with prof. Karin Arts, a specialist on children’s rights who – thank god – is interested in my project.

So for the coming period there are some hurdles to take, starting with the TOEFL test which I am taking this saturday. I am studying like crazy right now, as I have to score >100 to even be considered as a PhD candidate at the ISS… Fingers crossed!

Publishing a philosophical perspective on children’s rights

By Marieke Hopman - 26 October 2015

Great news: I got an email saying that reviewers are willing to publish my article (“(why) should children have rights? A philosophical perspective”) in the upcoming book on 25 years Convention on the Rights of the Child!

Or at least, I still have to rewrite it a little – I am not completely up to date on academic conventions but I think it generally means that my article was accepted. This makes me especially happy since the academic tradition on children’s rights often does not include philosophy. Besides, in the article I argued that technically children do not have rights and that they should rather be argued to possess “legal privileges”. As one reviewer wrote in his/her comment on my article: “it will most likely trigger some discussion and we should not refuse an article because we don’t agree with the line of thinking”.

The book will be published in 2016 by Brill Nijhoff Publishers, edited by Prof T. Liefaard and Prof. J. Sloth-Nielsen.


Looking at law through children’s eyes II

By Marieke Hopman - 24 September 2015
When looking at law through children’s eyes, who are the legislators? And how can we do research on law for children?

Looking at law through children’s eyes I

By Marieke Hopman - 10 August 2015
Looking at law through children’s eyes: wat is a law, and how is a law different from a social rule?