The government should rethink its policy of promoting labor migration as a way of generating employment opportunity, as it strikes adversely into the very foundation of society, which is the family.
In her presentation at the ongoing International Conference on Gender, Migration and Development being held in Manila, United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef)-New York’s deputy director for programs Vanessa Tobin said various studies have shown that the social costs of labor migration outweigh the economic benefits, with family relationships and dynamics as the first casualty.
“Migration should be, first and foremost, be just one of the options. Therefore, government should be able to create more jobs with decent wages,” Tobin said.
Tobin said the increasing “feminization” of migration has complicated the situation as it “implies a redefinition of the economic role of women in society and within the family as well.”
Children most affected
Most affected in such dynamic are the children, who may deal with the absence of one parent or both parents, either positively or negatively.
Data from the Unicef showed that there are about three to six million Filipino children left behind as parents pursue work abroad.
The figure of affected Filipino children casts a huge shadow when compared with Indonesia's one million and Thailand's half a million.
The absence of parents, Tobin noted, creates “displacement, disruptions and changes in care-giving arrangement.” Such effects are more felt when it is the mother who works abroad, as families go through more adjustments, than when it is the father who goes to work abroad.
This is because men do not easily take up care-giving when they assume the role of the mother, Tobin said, citing studies.
Generally, children have a different level of acceptance in a situation where a parent works abroad. Young children view migration as a form of “abandonment,” while for adolescents, the acceptance could either be “receptive or resentful.”
While working overseas promises more income and better educational opportunities for children left behind, such is mostly a mirage for most migrant workers.
Tobin cited studies where it was found that “there is not much improvement in the lives of the families, the money being sent is just enough or sometimes hardly meet the demands and needs of the families left behind.”
Tobin added: “They are also vulnerable to economic shocks, especially related to the country’s economic and political situation.”
On the other hand, the social costs of labor migration cannot be denied, impacting severely on children, psychologically and physically.
While children feel the economic benefits of parents working abroad, various studies however show that children “do not recognize this as a form of care.” Thus, children of migrants are less socially adjusted.
Those with absent mother “tend to be more angry, confused, pathetic and more afraid than other children, Tobin pointed out, citing the study conducted by Migrante-Anak Pamilya Foundation. The same study said that “the absence of the mother could be the most disruptive in the life of the children.”
The feeling of neglect and abandonment is most felt by the eldest daughter who assumes the mother’s role in the family as the father struggles to take the mother’s role.
“This immense responsibility in turn affects their performance in schools,” Tobin said, quoting a study. “It becomes a burden to the girls in the family.”
Labor migration of parents also skews the values of children as they view it only in terms of “money equivalent.” With no proper guidance from the parents, the regular remittances lead to materialistic attitude of children.
Children of migrants are also vulnerable to abuse and violence with the parent’s absence.
Apart from rethinking the labor migration policy, Tobin recommended that government review its programs for migrant workers, noting that most are geared toward economic assistance. Only few programs target the children and these are also only on short term basis.
One area where government can actively intervene in promoting the interests of overseas workers and their family is to tap remittances to finance programs and projects geared towards the children, Tobin said, adopting the recommendation of one study commissioned by the Unicef. As of December 2007, remittances have reached $14 billion.
“The prevailing separation of one or both parents from their children definitely goes against the interest of the children. It is therefore imperative to determine how these remittances are utilized to find ways to increase the positive effect of remittances on these rights and promote their best use,” Tobin said.