GENEVA – Increasing attention on the safe migration of people in the globalized world and greater efforts to promote the rights of migrant workers are not being systematically matched by interventions to ensure the safety and well being of families left behind, the International Organization for Migration says today as it marks International Women’s Day.
“Countries of origin are increasingly dependent on the significant remittances being provided by migrants and see their overseas workers as of major value to their economic development. However, for spouses and children left behind, the absence of a parent from the day-to-day running of the family brings social and economic problems of its own. These have all too often been overlooked in migration and development policies,” says Ndioro Ndiaye, IOM Deputy Director General.
International remittances to developing countries, amounting to an estimated US$240 billion in 2007, are often the main income of a receiving family and are usually used for day-to-day expenses including school fees and materials. However, the long-term absence of a parent can undermine the very objective that led to the migration in the first place – bettering a family’s prospects.
Studies among families of low and semi-skilled migrants in source countries show that being a single head of household usually entails a significant increase in workload and responsibilities.
Whilst for women this situation can be empowering, a husband’s return often signals the resumption of a traditional role.
IOM research in some Asian countries has found that wives left behind suffer from an increase in health problems due to depression, loneliness and fatigue. Women and girls are also more vulnerable to sexual abuse by male members of an extended household or from within the community.
In Bangladesh, where the World Bank estimates that remittances have reduced the poverty head count by six percentage points, an IOM survey among families of overseas workers found that mothers noticed changes in the behaviour of their sons in particular. This was largely attributed to the lack of a male role model in the family.
IOM research in other Asian countries supports this by highlighting a lack of motivation at school or dropping out altogether, a search for a father/mother figure and substance abuse as some of the problems among the children of families left behind.
Women migrants, who represent close to 50 per cent of the nearly 200 million international migrants in the world today, can also face issues relating to alcoholism, marital infidelity or violence upon returning home from husbands unable to handle the responsibilities and loneliness during the separation or their change in status from breadwinner to primary family carer.
“Specific programmes need to be implemented for the families of migrants in the same way that governments, civil society and international organizations are attempting to tackle labour migration, irregular migration and human trafficking,” states Ndiaye. “Interventions need to be varied to address a wide range of issues and must be integrated into national migration and development policies.”
These include the better protection of women migrants in destination countries who are paid much less then men and who often work in unregulated sectors such as domestic work and agriculture.
The non-payment of wages or major breaches of contract can have a significant impact on the well- being of remittance-dependent families.
Also needed are more focused interventions on the schooling of children of emigrants, the provision of institutional parenting support to lessen children’s vulnerability and the establishment of migrant workers support groups in areas of high emigration. This would give a collective and empowering economic and social voice to spouses left behind as well as represent a group of people who contribute significantly to their country’s economy through remittances.
More importantly, training to improve the financial management abilities of spouses would not only provide new skills in income generation but would also help families be less dependent on remittance income that instead could be used for long-term investment.
Reintegration programmes for returning migrants are also critical not just to ensure their successful economic reinsertion in the community after many years of absence but also their social integration.
“By ensuring returning migrants have jobs and livelihood opportunities upon coming home and that they know of them, migration becomes a truly win-win proposition for the family and society as a whole,” adds Ndiaye.
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