Over the past few decades, migration- both international and nationally, has increased rapidly. Easier travel, greater access to information about distant places, relatives, and friends who have migrated and the opportunities for improving living standards all have fuel movements of individuals and families. Millions of children around the world are affected by migration. This includes girls and boys who migrate within and between countries, as well as children “left behind” when their parents or caregivers migrate in search of economic opportunities. Be it forced or voluntary, by adults or children, migration affects children’s care situations and can entail risks to their protection.
Children who move with their Parents
Like adults, children often migrate in an attempt to build a better life to escape poverty, discrimination, or conflict, and to find education, employment, and other opportunities. Others relocate due to an unstable or difficult family environment, such as the loss of a parent, or a neglect or abuse from a caregiver. Children may migrate with or without their families and their movements may be temporary, seasonal, or permanent. Migrant children sometimes end up in an unsafe institution, detention centers, on the stress or in overcrowded, poor-quality accommodation. Others who migrate to join households may be subjected to exploitation. Many migrant children, particularly those without documentation, end up without access to education, protection, or basic services, while discrimination and language barriers make it difficult for them to reintegrate into new communities.
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Children who were left behind
An increasing number of children around the world are also adversely affected when migrating parents leave home to seek out employment or economic opportunities. While children may gain materially from payment are sent home, the absence of a parent may be detrimental to their social and psychological development. Studies from around the world indicate that children left behind by migrating caretakers face education, health, and psychological problems, including deteriorating academic performance and lower school attendance, greater risk of drug abuse, early pregnancy, involvement in criminal activities, and social dysfunction. Left behind children have a feeling of abandonment and suffer from low self-esteem and in the worst cases may be vulnerable to violence, abuse, and trafficking.
Migration of Children Internationally
Migration to industrialized countries within the foreign countries is important, evidences indicate that around 40 percent of migrants leave their own developing country and move to another developing country. Migration contributes to urbanization both in formal and informal sectors. Additionally, some significant numbers migrate from one rural area to another, and often across borders.
Recently, in a small town namely Aravan in Kyrgyzstan, a stone’s throw from the border of Uzbekistan lives two girls Tolgonai and Aisuluu, run their life with difficulty. From the last few years, these two girls are struggling to keep up a normal life through the financial support sent by their mother and brother, who have migrated to Russia. However, there was an abrupt loss of payments due to the COVID- 19 worldwide lockdown and it further deteriorated their already difficult relations with their father suffering from chronic alcoholism amid violence and abuses. Lives became more frustrating and anguish than ever and they could only continue to keep on going through occasional charity and food assistance.
This was the moment when Akchach, one of the psychologists from the “Centre for the Development and Protection of Vulnerable Populations” supported by UNICEF in the framework of the EU project “Protecting children left behind by migration”, came into their lives offering a very much needed support and concrete help. The following step was to provide them with a safe space in the neighbouring “crisis center”, where they could run life without violence and continue their studies. According to 2019 estimates, in Kyrgyzstan, there are over 250,000 children left behind by migrating parents with 120,000 of them separated from both their parents. The current COVID- 19 pandemic, unfortunately, has already proven to make their lives even harder and expose them to higher risks of violence. Thus, to meet the challenges emerging from COVID- 19 crisis a rapid assessment to assess these challenges has been launched in cooperation with IOM and is the basis for future targeted interventions. When Tolgonai and Aisuluu have been asked about their hopes and fears they strongly agree on their decision not to go back to their father to avoid further violence and abuse.
At the same time, they express their worries about being negatively judged by their relatives. While the project has reached far over 1, 200 children, and the continuous efforts will be invested in devising structural solutions. Overall, while Tolgonai and Aisuluu’s present looks uncertain, they are at least comforted of the support they are receiving and they can even look at their future with more hope, positivity, and optimism.
(Names of the two girls have been changed to protect their identity)