Recently, a land mark decision has just been reached by the European Court of Human Rights with respect to children forcibly separated from parents when parents move abroad to work. The case of a Filipino mother separated from her son for more than six years highlights a global phenomenon that governments and the public have chosen to overlook. How many similar cases there are is difficult to assess with precision but given the number of women and men who annually leave countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Moldova, Romania, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico to work elsewhere we can safely assume that the number of children left behind is in the millions.
Who exactly are these children and why exactly are they left behind? They are children of all ages, including very young ones, who cannot be taken by their parents and who are left with relatives, friends and sometimes older siblings. The reason they are left behind is that countries everywhere have introduced policies and legislation that prevents mothers and/ or fathers from bringing their spouses and their children. The argument is that these people are coming to work for relatively short periods of time although in fact they usually end up staying decades. The rationale behind these policies is also that countries want to prevent immigration even though their growing dependence on guest or temporary workers is tantamount to immigration.
What happens to these children and families has become a major ethical and public health concern. Over the last 40 years the world has seen and abetted a growing disruption and disorganization of families in poor countries from where people are forced to move to seek work. Vast demographically biased populations have been created, denuded of complete family units and often characterized by children who grow up in the absence of their biological parents. Cared for – or very often not cared for – by the people they were entrusted to generations of children are being forced to grow up in circumstances that still need to be evaluated. What the impact of this on their psycho-emotional development and physical development remains to be assessed.
The decision by the European Court of Human Rights will hopefully open the door to more humane policies. Its’ decision to condemn Switzerland should have been differently worded to condemn all countries that depend on and use workers in this fashion. Currently ICMHD is working on a multisectoral project for Children Left Behind and we could use your support! To find out more check out our official Donations Web-Page.