Protecting children left behind by migration

The European Union and UNICEF work together to protect children in the Kyrgyz Republic

Lucio Valerio Sarandrea
Opa holds her grandchild Bek.
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan
15 August 2018

Opa lives at the end of a dusty road in the village of Atabekov, south Kyrgyzstan, a stone’s throw from the Uzbek border.

It took us a while to find her house wandering around the hamlet amid children molding bricks from mud and others swimming in the canal looking for relief from the sweltering sunny day. She welcomes us in the shady garden and offers us tea while her grandchildren joyfully splash themselves with buckets of water. In her eyes is the strong dignity of a woman who has suffered but still looks ahead toward the future with resilience and courage.

When she was younger she tried hard. She emigrated to Russia with her husband to get the money to build a house. She worked a lot but things didn’t work out the way she really dreamt of. Now she is back to her village without her husband, taking care of her grandchildren with little or no support from anyone else. Both her daughters divorced amid abuse, violence and alcoholism. Their former husbands are unaccounted for and probably working somewhere between Russia and Turkey.

The oldest grandchildren are now placed in the nearby madrasa and at the mosque. She sent them there because she was afraid they would have gone “on the wrong track”. One of them is gravely sick as he lived as a street child for a while sleeping at the bus station. They come back home twice a week to see her. The youngest grandchildren are with her all day since they don’t have money to pay for kindergarten.

Children mold bricks from mud in southern Kyrgyzstan.
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan
Children mold bricks from mud in southern Kyrgyzstan.

It is for people like Opa and  for the other 259,000 children affected by migration in the country,  that the European Union and UNICEF have joined forces. In the next three years, we shall work together to ensure state authorities can address this vulnerable population. Activities will include enforcement of remittance decisions, supporting document issuance, allowing the determination of legal representatives for children and training a social workforce to prevent and adequately address abuses when they occur.

When I ask Opa what kind of assistance she would like to receive, she hesitates. She takes her grandchild Bek in her arms. She says that maybe she would need more land to cultivate and more assistance for the kindergarten fees.

Her eyes are drained, on the verge of tears but still ready to look ahead to guide her grandchildren to a future brighter than the life she has the chance to live.

Lucio Valerio Sarandrea is Chief – Child Protection, UNICEF Kyrgyzstan.

Names of individuals have been changed in order to protect their right to privacy.

Children of parents-migrants
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan
Children of parents-migrants showing their UNICEF bracelets