Home Alone – The Impact of Labour Migration on Children Left Behind

Special Insight - Bulgaria - 05 Nov 2015
Since eastward enlargement, the migration debate within the EU has experienced a renaissance. While right-wing populists in Western Europe are trying to make substantial gains by talking about social welfare scroungers and provoking anti-migrant resentment, Bulgaria faces not only a 'brain drain', but a 'care drain' that separates millions of parents from their children. by Raycho Penchev
Thanks to the internet, one out of four Bulgarian children receives birthday greetings from its parents via Skype. As a study by Risk Monitor Foundation financed by UNICEF reveals, 26 percent of Bulgarian children up to the age 18 have one or two parents working abroad. The figure includes parents with temporary work abroad as well as those who live and work there permanently. One of the most important and timely questions in the debate on labour migration addresses the issue of who is actually raising these children.

Many Bulgarian citizens have made off to Western Europe. According to newest statistics the number of Bulgarians working abroad almost equals the total number of employees in their home country. When migrants move to another country to find work, they often see it as a chance to improve the well-being of their family and provide better opportunities for their children. Nevertheless, labour migration is seen to have a detrimental impact on childrens' social and psychological development.

A Bulgarian 'care drain'

Due to this emigration, many observe a serious 'care drain'. For instance, the absence of a child's parents results in a care gap, as the child is mostly left with grandparents, relatives or friends. Furthermore, grandparents are often unable to take care of their offspring`s children, the household and themselves. What`s more, the gap between the children and the aging grandparents can result in communication problems and even have a negative impact on a child’s socialization.

According to Bulgarian legislation it is not an option that custody be transferred to a third party for a certain period of time. This deprives the children of some of their basic rights, especially regarding health care and sanctions of anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, the data indicates that children of working migrants receive lower than average marks in their education, have a higher risk of having to repeat classes, are more likely to drink and smoke and get sick more often.

Many children who are left behind follow their parents and stay with them for a certain amount of time in order to help their parents in seasonal work or just to visit. However, by staying abroad for a longer period of time children could miss important lessons at school. Moreover, there are cases of abuse regarding the reintegration of students in the Bulgarian educational system. Often, some schools’ directors try to make a secret of the students' absence in order to keep on 'paper' the minimum number of students per class. This is due to the schools’ delegated budget system – a matter of annual funding of the schools which reflects proportionally the number of enrolled students.

How to adress the issue?

Recently, left-wing Social Minister Ivailo Kalfin argued that the problem could not be solved by sanctioning their parents financially. For Kalfin a viable solution would be to strengthen the role of social workers and the schools in children's education. However, he also indicated that the new legal framework had created a complex situation. Initially, legislation had ruled that parents working abroad would not receive child benefits. This, however, has changed.

Finally, the abolishment of migration restrictions for Bulgarians since January 2014 caused an uproar in the media of many Western European countries. However, freedom of movement in the EU offers chances and challenges for both sides – for destination and home countries alike. What they all have in common is the certain need to understand their own perspective on the migration debate in the EU is not the only game in town.

Source: Mitch | CC BY-NC 2.0

Boy at the airport

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