Modern-Day Child Migration
Research and policy discussion on child migrants commonly concentrate on children who have been coerced into cross national or transnational movement to work in situations which are either abusive or exploitative in themselves, or are abusive or exploitative because of the young age of the children. In contrast, the vast majority of independent child migration (that is where the child moves without his or her family) is children who move within their own countries or between contingent or nearby countries to work in a wide variety of occupations or to go to school.
The DRC research focuses on this kind of child migrant and seeks to investigate which kind of children migrate, why they migrate, what their experience is of migration and what impact it has upon them and their links with their families. So far, detailed field studies have been carried out in northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, the southern state of Karnataka in India and in Bangladesh, whilst related work of Sussex doctoral students is taking place in Brazil and elsewhere. Much of this work is qualitative and ethnographic in nature, seeking to trace movements of children and understand the experience of migration from the perspective of children themselves. However, quantitative surveys have been carried out in source and destination areas in Karnataka, and in destination areas in Ghana, and follow up surveys in villages of origin in northern Ghana are planned for 2006.
These studies find that high rates of child migration occur from relatively impoverished areas where many adults use migration as part of survival or livelihood strategies. In these circumstances many children migrate to meet their own ambitions and aspirations or out of their own sense of responsibility to their parents. They are certainly not simple pawns in family livelihood strategies, nor are they the victims of traffickers. Each of the studies aims to explore the incentives and motives children have for migrating, the child's role in the decision making processes and the arrangements made to facilitate migration and to access work and education. Each study also looks at the impact on children's wellbeing and the risks and dangers they face.
Conceptualizing children as exercising agency in these decisions to migrate and the findings that there may be some positive outcomes for children are both controversial and challenging, particularly in the context of the policy implications of this research. Our dissemination plans include specific efforts to consider how policy priorities for improving outcomes for this kind of child migrant might be integrated with child protection policies and into the trafficking framework which dominates international development discussions. As part of this strategy, RMMRU in Bangladesh held a workshop In December that presented the findings of their project (3b(3) below) to an invited audience.
Individual researchers are currently preparing a number of papers for publication and the whole team will be presenting their work to the research and policy communities in a series of workshops. The research findings will be brought together in a landmark edited volume on autonomous child migration.