Children of migrants

In Kyrgyzstan, more than 11 per cent of children aged 0-17 had at least one biological parent living abroad.

UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016/Simon Lister

“Invisible” children

Children of labour migrants who are left behind with relatives or put into institutions are extremely vulnerable to abuse and violence. Prolonged parental absence can lead to a range of psychological and social difficulties. Children of internal migrants are largely “invisible” in society, as many of them lack civil registration documents. They face difficulties getting basic services such as school, health and social benefits and social protection services, and are often living in some of the worst and most hazardous conditions in Kyrgyzstan.

Migrant children, due to multiple vulnerabilities (not least poverty), experience overlapping deprivations, and have a high risk of experiencing violence, exploitation and abuse.

An estimated 650,000 to 750,000 citizens of Kyrgyzstan work abroad. Their salaries totaled the equivalent of more than 25 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2015, making Kyrgyzstan one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world. Almost 80 percent of Kyrgyz migrants work in Russia and 15 per cent in Kazakhstan, with the majority of migrants coming from the southern regions. 

With growing poverty driving internal and external labour migration, the number of children left behind has also increased.

In 2014, more than 11 per cent of children aged 0-17 had at least one biological parent living abroad.

According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, out of 192,000 families visited, there were 72,000 children left behind. As parents migrate, children are often left with relatives, and in many cases with grandparents who may struggle meeting the needs of the growing children, many of whom are placed in residential institutions. While migrants’ households enjoy more income through money coming in from abroad, the absence of parents forces children to do heavy work that deprives them of free time and even contributes to absenteeism in school.

Children of internal migrants and labour migrants (external migrants who leave their children behind) are one of the most disadvantaged groups of children in Kyrgyzstan.

As the country moves towards closer economic integration with Russia, through the Eurasian Economic Union, the number of children left behind may increase. An estimated one million people live as internal migrants in the Kyrgyzstan, most of them have moved from rural to urban areas, mainly to Osh and Bishkek. Children of internal migrants make up approximately 80 per cent of street children. They often live in hazardous houses in the outskirts of Bishkek with limited water, gas, electricity, sanitation and communications, and have restricted health care, education and social benefits. Migrant children, already poor and highly vulnerable, face a high risk of violence, exploitation, and harmful behaviour.