Over the past decades, the number of people migrating worldwide has been increasing dramatically. According to the UN estimates, about 215 million people live and work outside their country of birth (a number expected to grow to 400 million by 2040), and over 700 million migrate within their countries (UN 2012). As more people decide to move within and out of their countries of origin, special attention was drawn to the impact of migration on children left behind. Given the rigid entrance policies,the difficult living conditions in the host country and the legal status of migrants, many people who decide to migrate are forced to leave their children behind. The decision of one or both parents to migrate and leave their children in their country of origin is often based on the altruistic desire to provide for the family and give them a better life. When not migrating with their children, most parents plan either to return to their place of origin after working a short time abroad or to reunite much later in their destination country.
Scope and Magnitude:
As a result, many countries find themselves with a considerable number of children left behind, with consequences that should be carefully considered. Although there is no available data on the number of children left behind worldwide, some countries tried to provide statistics on the approximate number of children left behind. In China, for example, it is estimated that there are 58 million children under 18 years old left behind, accounting for 21.72% of all children in China (Wang 2011:2). Another country, Philippines, known as one of the largest labor sending countries, accounts for approximately 9 million of children left behind, which represents 27% of the overall youth population (Parreñas 2005:317). In the case of Indonesia and Thailand, Bryant (2005) suggested that the former had 1 million children left behind and the latter half a million. In Moldova, IOM estimated that there are approximately 177, 000 children under 18 left behind by parents working abroad (UNICEF Salah 2008). In Romania, a qualitative and quantitative survey carried by UNICEF and Soros Foundation found that there are approximately 350 000 children left behind, a third of them (126 000) being affected by the migration of both parents. Moreover, half of the Romanian children with both parents abroad are under 10 years old and 4% of them are under 1 years old.
After analyzing different studies on the impact of parental migration on the education of children left behind, it became more evident that migration has contradictory effects on the school attendance and educational performance of these children. Several studies have also indicated that remittances lead to an increased number of children, in particular girls, who complete schooling. Many researchers reported that the loss of parental attention and supervision may lead to poorer school performance and increased drop-out rates. Often, children left behind are feeling obliged to perform household duties or take care of younger siblings, which leaves them with less energy for school activities or forces them to abandon their studies. In addition, the absence of a parent may negatively affect the children’s psychological well-being, making them to feel abandoned and thus perform poorly at school. Living in a migrant household may also have a detrimental effect on the decision to attend school, as it may change children’s educational aspiration and increase the prospect of future migration (Kandel & Kao 2000).
Despite the growing number of children left behind, little is known about the impact and implications of parental migration on children who stay in their country of origin. Although migration might provide opportunities for parents to earn significantly higher incomes to the benefit of all family members, it is also accompanied by long-term family separations, which might have direct or indirect effects on children’s development. Children need safe, predictable and stress-free environments and a strong, caring and reliable primary caregiver in order to reach physical, cognitive, social, and emotional maturation. Migration creates emotional displacement for migrants and their children and it can have a detrimental impact on their children’s health, education, emotional stability and behavioral attitudes. Although some children cope well with the migration of their parents, others experience migration as a form of abandonment or rejection, adopting several deviant behavioral patterns. It is thus imperative to address the question of being left behind and achieve a full understanding of the dimension of this phenomenon.
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