Greater Efforts Needed to Ensure Well Being of Families Left Behind in Migration Process

Date Publish: 
Friday, March 7, 2008 - 16:00
© IOM 2007 (File photo: Bashir Ahmed Sujan)

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.