Reflections

A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry from Yale Divinity School

The Children Left Behind

Author: 
Rima Salah

Despite the many economic benefits of migration, it also poses challenges. These include risks to the healthy mental and physical development of children or increases on the workload of women and children left behind in the countries of origin.

In labor-sending countries, a growing number of children are left behind by one or both parents. Since 2000, more than 300,000 youngsters have been left by parents in Ecuador, for instance.

The migration implications for children and adolescents have received little attention so far. The united Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) protects every child regardless of nationality or immigration status. States have obligations to adopt Convention principles regarding every child in their jurisdiction. The principles include the right to a nationality, health and education, and freedom from discrimination and exploitation.

Studies undertaken by UNICEf in some countries suggest children and adolescents left behind may be at greater risk of drug abuse, psycho-social problems, and violent behavior. They may face challenges in adapting to host societies.

UNICEF and other UN agencies are accompanying governments and other stakeholders in order to develop policies to maximize the benefits of migration while limiting negative effects on children and families.

Unfortunately, the complexity of today’s displacement goes well beyond voluntary migration. We see more people forced to move because of extreme deprivation, war, and persecution. millions of children are growing up in families and communities torn apart by armed conflict and war.

I was born a refugee. While growing up, I remember asking my parents, “What is a refugee? Why are we refugees?” As a young child, it was difficult to understand why we were different and what could be done to be part of normal life again.

Later, when I lived in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordan to conduct research for my doctoral thesis, I witnessed the terrible effects of war. Despite all of the indicators that we have in social science, I learned there are no indicators to capture the full extent of people’s pain, suffering, loss, and sadness. There are no indicators either for human dignity, resilience, moral courage, and wisdom.

my work for UNICEF took me to some of the world’s poorest countries, crippled by political in- stability and conflict.

I will never forget the vivid images I have of families and little children fleeing monrovia, Liberia, with all their belongings wrapped in bundles on their heads.

I met Maimouna in one of the camps in Mali in 2002, after her shanty-town in Cote d’Ivoire burned and was bulldozed to the ground: “my husband and I saved what we could but there wasn’t much time. men were beaten and some women were raped. I don’t want to go back. I’m too scared and so are my children. We only have what is here in these sacks,” she said. “The rest has been stolen, burned or destroyed. We’ve got to start our lives all over again due to the war. We need to find jobs and our children need to go to school.”

The united Nations and its partners work together to improve life in the camps. In 2007, over half a million refugees returned to Afghanistan, southern Sudan, Burundi and the Congo, all this with the assistance of the UN and partners.

Despite those achievements, we must acknowledge that the only effective way to protect children and their families during war and conflict is to protect them from conflict and war. We know that the unacceptable cycle of disparities, poverty and marginalization is the central cause of most conflicts. We need to intensify efforts to promote social justice and respect of human rights – in times of peace and in times of conflict.

Issue Title: 
Who is my Neighbor? Facing Immigration
Issue Year: 
2008