The issue of migration in the global arena has stirred much political discourse. Countries are compelled to evolve their approaches to the people knocking on their borders, asking to be let in. Labor surplus nations, most of which are Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), benefit immensely from the remittances sent back by emigrants. However, most LMICs have hitherto overlooked the longer term impacts of emigration, particularly with regard to one important stakeholder group, the families of emigrants.
The size of the issue
The economies of many countries in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America are greatly stimulated by remittance inflows. These important contributions are sent by migrants living in developed countries such as the UK. Reliable services like Ria Money Transfer UK create the support systems for worldwide remittances to flow smoothly. The number of migrants worldwide now exceeds 272 million. Many of these are men and women who have left their families behind. Although remittances help, they cannot be a substitute for the physical proximity of one or both parents. There is an inevitable long term social impact for the millions of children of migrant workers.
Several studies have been conducted on the physical and psychological health of the children of migrants. One of these is research conducted on migration health by Dr. L P Jordan and Prof E Graham. This study focused on children in Indonesia and Thailand. It showed that children in families where the fathers were working abroad showed poorer psychological outcomes as compared to children in households with both parents present. Most of the psychological issues the children displayed were related to conduct and emotional outcomes. Female children were less likely to manifest conduct issues than male children. A similar study was conducted by Wickramage, Vearey, Zwi, Robinson and Knipper in Sri Lanka. Their findings showed that nearly 40% of the children in families with at least one migrant parent suffered from social maladjustment, sometimes resulting in mental disorders.
Mitigating negative effects
The conclusions of several of these studies recommend mitigation measures and coping mechanisms. The psychological impact of children left behind by migrant parents can be addressed by taking the following measures:
- Families are encouraged to maintain regular communication with the migrant parent through means such as email, voice chat, text, and others.
- Greater involvement on part of the people who assume the roles of caregivers for the children can help. Better preparation for caregiver roles can help them be better substitutes for the missing parent.
- Building capacity in childcare and effective management of remittances to enhance the welfare of the children also goes a long way.
The migrant parent fulfills an important responsibility by sending remittances and providing for the family back home. However, this is not sufficient for creating holistic positive outcomes for the children. Migrant workers’ children are often forced to perform some of the tasks of the missing parent. Thoughtful re-allocation of tasks in migrant households may reduce the time burden on children who have to perform duties such as preparing meals. Also, in the absence of parental authority, children are less likely to care for their nutritional needs. In the Sri Lankan study by Wickramage et al, 30% of the children from migrant households showed poorer nutritional outcomes as compared to those from non-migrant households. The most affected group comprised children aged 6-59 months, which showed signs of being underweight. Despite the positive economic outcome of remittances, children of migrants are prone to suffer from several setbacks due to the absence of one or both parents.
The nutritional and behavioral health of all children is important. A multifaceted approach is necessary to counter these issues. Communities can play a big part. One solution can be the collective care of migrants’ children by communities that understand the needs and challenges of these kids. In this way the vulnerability of children due to the psychological and nutritional issues caused by parental separation can be mitigated significantly.
About the author:
Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.