Fuelled by poverty and debt, more than a quarter of Cambodian adults migrate, and, in the process, many are leaving behind their children, a new report finds.
Part of a four-year research project on child labour, the Cambodian Independent Research Institute’s The Impacts of Adult Migration on Children’s Well-Being found evidence that children left behind suffer a variety of consequences to which their peers from nonmigrating families aren’t subjected. The loss of parental supervision disrupts family life, and the absence of a breadwinner in the household may translate into day-to-day cash shortages that force children out of school and into work, according to the report.
“A high proportion (17.2 per cent) of children aged between 10 and 17 years [who were left by their migrant families] are not currently attending school,” the report says, adding that the situation is worse for girls, who are perceived to be better suited to tackling household chores and more in demand by the labour market.
Instead of attending classes, many of the children take up jobs to add to the family’s earnings in between remittances or to make up for shortfalls. Children from migrant households are 27 per cent more likely to have income-earning work, and for child labourers who were already employed before the adults left, their burden increases; migration is likely to add 7.4 hours on children’s workload per week, according to the report.
“Most of the people in the village left for Thailand to seek work. When they left, they left their children with parents or other relatives unless the children could work” said Ban Sareap, 40, a resident of the heavily migrant-populated Moung Russey district in Battambang.
But migration experts said the alternative, kids migrating with the parents, poses an equally poor option.
“It’s not a good idea for children to go with parents, as they will have less access to education, maybe also have to work and will likely be living in temporary and hazardous conditions,” said Moeun Tola, labour program officer at the Cambodian Legal Education Center. “There is a saying in Cambodia, when you jump into water you meet with crocodiles, but when you jump out to land, you meet with tigers… The choice of leaving or taking children to migrate is like that, there is no good choice.”