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More than 3 million children in Thailand do not live with their parents: UNICEF

BANGKOK, Thailand, 23 June 2014  - About 21 per cent of children or more than three million children in Thailand do not live with either of their parents due to internal migration, a significant phenomenon that may have a long-term impact on the children’s development and well-being, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today. 

In the northeastern region alone, nearly 30 per cent of children (or 1 in 3 children) are not living with either parent and have been left in the care of others as the parents migrate to other parts of Thailand, according to the latest Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted in 2012 by the National Statistical Office with support from UNICEF.

“This is a remarkably high proportion compared with other countries and should be a major cause of concern,” said Andrew Claypole, Chief of Social Policy for UNICEF Thailand at the Bangkok launch of the first-phase results from an ongoing study about the impact of internal migration on early childhood development. “People in Thailand think it is normal for grandparents or others to take care of babies, infants and children whose parents have migrated. It is not. The scale of this internal migration phenomenon in Thailand is massive and unlike similar countries where MICS studies have been conducted.” 

According to MICS 2012 survey data, only 5 per cent of children in Laos PDR are not living with their parents, while the rate in Vietnam, Costa Rica and Nigeria is 4.4 per cent, 3.4 per cent, and 6.5 per cent respectively.

A new study “The Impact of Internal Migration on Early Childhood Well-being and Development: a Longitudinal and Mixed-Method Study” is tracking a sample of 1,000 children aged 0-3 years old who are either living or not living with their parents to assess the long-term impact on their well-being and development of extended parental absence.  The study started in 2013 and is being carried out by Mahidol University’s Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR) with support from UNICEF. It is the first long-term research in Thailand on the impact of parental migration on several aspects of early childhood development, as well as the effects of such migration on caretakers, including their mental health and household finances.

“In the absence of their parents, nearly 90 per cent of the children are living with their grandparents, most of whom have primary education background,” said Associate Professor Aree Jampaklay, the research team leader of the IPSR citing the study results from the first year.  “We also found that about 36 per cent of the caretakers, mostly grandparents, are at risk of having mental health problems.”

Results from the study’s initial phase showed that 25 per cent of children who are not living with their parents have developmental delays compared with 16 per cent of children who are living with both parents. The children who are left behind by their parents also lag behind in other aspects of development, especially language skills.

The study also suggested that in the households where fathers migrate, about 40 per cent of fathers had not sent home any money during the previous six months. In addition, nearly 30 per cent of fathers had never contacted their children or their children’s caretakers.

“The IPSR research will increase understanding on the potentially negative impact of internal migration on child development. It will also help identify the social and emotional costs paid by children, parents and caregivers from the long-term lack of contact caused by migration” said UNICEF’s Claypole.

The IPSR study will continue to track the wellbeing of the sample of 1,000 children for the next two years and final results are expected in early 2016.

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For more information, please contact

Nattha Keenapan, UNICEF Thailand, 02 356 9478 or 086 616 7555 or nkeenapan@unicef.org

Mark Thomas, UNICEF Thailand, 02 356 9481 or 081 172 9902 or mthomas@unicef.org

 

 
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