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Research on migrants’ children left behind: No extra burdens

© UNICEF/NYHQ2005-1655/Mohan
Children sit on a bench in a camp for migrant Burmese workers on a rubber plantation in the southern Pang Nga Province, Thailand

By Karen Emmons

Conventional perceptions see children left behind by migrating parents as benefiting from the economic pay-off but suffering a social and psychological trade-off.

Not so – at least in East and South-East Asia – according to recent research findings that indicate they endure no greater psychosocial problems than children of non-migrants.

It is a significant conclusion, according to UNICEF in a multi-agency-produced Situation Report on International Migration in East and South-East Asia on migration trends in 16 Asian countries and their socio-economic impact.

“If children of migrants are not a genuinely disadvantaged group, then they are not appropriate targets for special benefits or programmes,” according to John Bryant, an American researcher with the Institute for Population and Social Research at Mahidol Univeristy in Thailand who authored the report’s chapter on children and international migration.

“Governments could do more good by devoting scarce resources to groups who really are disadvantaged, such as the poor,” he concludes.

Among those who should be targeted, Bryant includes child migrants. “Despite their smaller numbers, child migrants are a greater cause for concern than children left behind. Children who migrate internationally as well as children born to irregular migrants often have great difficulty accessing social services or securing a legal identity.”

The UNICEF chapter of the Situation Report presents new estimates of children left behind, based on census data for the Philippines and registration data for Thailand. And in looking at the impact of parents in the Philippines who leave to work abroad, the author compares school enrollments between children left behind and children of non-migrants; he also analyses family structure, migration patterns, education, work and birth registrations of child migrants in Thailand.

The author refers to coping strategies that Filipino families rely on to maintain contact and help assuage some psychosocial fallout. But he also acknowledges limitations in assessing the impact on children whose parents have been gone for longer periods, due to gaps in the existing research.

The UN Regional Thematic Working Group on International Migration, including Human Trafficking, which comprises UN agencies and the International Organization on Migration launched the migration trends report as a prelude to the second and unique Global Forum on Migration in Manila (28-30 October).

Having first met in Brussels in 2007, the three-day forum brings together high-level government officials, United Nations agencies and civil society representatives to work toward positive impacts of migration on development and vice-versa.

The Manila meeting will focus on protecting and empowering migrants for development, with particular emphasis on human rights protection, opening up more legal channels for migrants, obstacles to regular and protective forms of migration and more consistent policy approaches. The aim is for discussions to enable the exchange of know-how and experience on innovative tactics and methods.




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