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This section examines the impact of international migration on left-behind children from the perspectives of children, unlike adults. The literature cited in this section used children as informants. The studies provide an alternative perspective concerning how left-behind children experience and deal with parents’ migration, with particular emphasis being placed on the children’s constructions and narratives in the processes of being left behind. As mentioned earlier, the experiences, feelings, and reactions of children affected by migration are often hidden within predominantly adult-centric literature on migration. However, few studies are aiming at exploring the lived experience of children left behind using children as primary informants.

In exploring the experiences of left-behind children, Olwig (1999) examined the life stories of left-behind children living with grandparents in Caribbean families. He revealed that from children’s perspectives, remittances represent the strong economic and social presence of the migrant parents. Remittance supports them as valued family members and affords them respect from the extended family and the community. Moreover, from the remittances they can feel emotional support from their parents, feel they are loved and cared for, and believe that their parents are working away from home for their benefit. The author further contends that it is the personal loyalty and family obligations entailed in such parent-child connectedness that enables these children to construct their homes despite the physical separation across national borders.

Another interesting ethnographic study was conducted in Mexico by Dreby (2010). She demonstrated that left-behind children were not powerless in their families, even though they suffered from parental migration. By presenting negative emotional and behavioral reactions towards migrant parents, these children could exert pressure on their parents to adjust the family’s migration trajectories, such as returning home more frequently, putting more resources into their children’s education, or sponsoring their migration. Consequently, the researcher concluded that separation from parents could magnify children’s power towards their migrant parents and enable them to wield more influence on the family’s decision-making. Huang and Yeoh (2011) studied the experiences of Indonesian and Filipino children left by migrant parents. It questions how left-behind children from these two countries understand, engage, and react to the various disruptions in their everyday lives, particularly care arrangements, brought about by their parents’ migration. Pivotal to these explorations is the attempt to highlight and understand children’s agency, resilience, and creativity in navigating parental migration.

Parreñas (2005) who carried out extensive research in the Philippines revealed how left-behind children experience their lives in transnational families and were deeply influenced by the conventional gender division of labor between the father and mother. Children from father-migrating families were more likely to accept their fathers migrating to fulfill the role of breadwinner, and the problems they reported were mostly about social discomfort and emotional gaps. In contrast, children from mother-away families usually struggled to recognize the economic contribution of their mothers and tended to blame them for the insufficient care they provided, claiming that they had been abandoned.

Another study conducted in the Philippines by Asis (2006) reported that left-behind children have their perceptions about their parents’ migration, for example, they could see it as providing an escape from parental control and that they could grow from such experiences. That is, they could seek social support, take responsibility, and resolve their problems in their ways to make sense of the challenges and opportunities brought about by parental migration.

Moreover, there is a qualitative study conducted in Vietnam that has examined the left-behind children’s agentic engagement in the process of migration decision-making and transnational communication in terms of how they imagine and construct parental migration (Hoang & Yeoh, 2014). The authors contend that children are constantly making meaning of and negotiating with both the macro and local socioeconomic contexts. In so doing, although they have avoided overemphasizing agency by shedding light on the constraints of structure, their approach has resulted in a dualism that regards the contexts as contradictions of the agency.

All in all, the existing academic researches provide a mixed and inconclusive picture concerning the costs and benefits that parental migration brings to left-behind children. Although differences in methodological approaches, research sites, sampling strategies, and instruments may partly explain the apparent contradictions in study outcomes, the multifaceted impact that parents’ migration can incur on left-behind children should be recognized. Although left-behind children may obtain material and financial resources from their migrant parents, they may experience challenges from parental absence such as emotional distance from migrant parents, lack of supervision and care, and increased levels of household responsibilities.

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6 Changes in Gender Roles, Identities, and Relations

As the basic objective of my future study plan will deliberate on the change of gender roles in the family left behind, it is important to highlight the empirical studies on changes in gender roles, identities, and relations. Recently, the gender-neutral approach in migration research has been challenged. Moreover, there is an increasing feminization of children and a tremendous number of women are migrating to several countries. Especially, in Ethiopia, a considerable number of mothers are migrating to Gulf countries leaving their children and husbands behind.

Often, sending family members abroad is seen by sending family as hope for the family’s economy. IOM’s (2006) study confirms that male migration contributes to improving the situation of women because non-migrating female spouses undertake new roles and responsibilities that result in increased household power vis-à-vis their husbands.

Gender-differentiated migration results in the changed gendered division of labor within the household remaining behind (Chant, 1998). When male migrants predominate emigration flows, women, children, and the elderly were believed to be the most susceptible. Several studies show that the migration of male-headed households leads to women and children executing tasks conventionally done by men, including agricultural work (Xiang, 2007). Apart from assuming greater responsibilities and additional workloads, male migration led to more financial hardships and difficulties in disciplining children for women (Battistells & Conaco, 1998; Hugo, 2000) and lower access to food (Smith-Estlle & Gruskin, 2003). According to studies conducted by Gamburd (2000) and Sampang (2005), the situation is worrisome for left-behind daughters. Despite their mother’s best efforts, they are forced to leave school early and form families through early marriages.

Nevertheless, not all studies on male migration exhibited deleterious consequences for women. Women who remain in the source area from which men migrate also takeover multidimensional roles and responsibilities. They may become more independent, self-directed, and involved in decision-making within the family and the community. As Donnan & Werbner (1991) illustrate, long-term absences of males in Punjab due to migration offered wives better autonomy and decision-making power over land issues, children’s education, and household finances. Such women also possibly continue holding on to their increased power even after their husbands’ return. Thus, it was found that women generally enhanced better self-confidence by being vigorously involved in decision-making and also experienced an improvement in socioeconomic status. Ullah (2017) examines the impact of husbands’ migration on the lives of ‘left-behind’ women. The purpose of his research is to investigate how the ‘left-behind’ women turned around in the absence of their husbands and ultimately how they end up being empowered financially, socially, and politically

With the more recent feminization of labor migration, studies on the gender impact of female migration have also appeared. A vital issue related to whether the migration of women necessarily leads men to undertake the roles formerly assumed by women (Asis, 2000). Studies show that as women migrate, men do take on more caregiving roles. This is evident in Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the change is not always sustained after women’s return as was evident in the Philippines (Afsar, 2005). As Afsar (2005) notes, in Bangladesh, husbands who take on household tasks in the absence of their migrant wives often do so with the help of older children. Although men in Sri Lanka do not openly confess overtaking household and child-rearing tasks that are seen to threaten their sense of masculinity, Gamburd (2000) observed that there was more male participation than reported.

Migration changes family structures by changing the role women have in family decision-making. As women become financial providers, their decision roles within the household inevitably expand and their status and social privileges increase and grant them access to social roles otherwise not available to them. This change may also make women role models for other women in the community and upcoming generations. The remaining-behind wives are left to handle the remittances husbands send. However, the effect of handling responsibilities comes in varied ways. When there is consistency in remittances the experiences could be encouraging but when remittance flows inconsistently, wives may be placed in a burdensome condition while Rashid (2013) and Amuedo-Dorantes & Pozo (2006) found that this situation causes women to become economically active and join employment. One should no doubt appreciate the increasing role of women in decision making and the resultant women empowerment in migrant households but at the same time, the mounting demand for such responsibilities and the forced work they have to do in agriculture and elsewhere should not be lost sight of (Agasty & Patra, 2014).

In most cases, as Gamburd (2005) reported, more left-behind children’s fathers appear to be experiencing greater stress in this reversed situation as more of them pick up drinking and drug-taking habits as a form of escape and this finally increases risks among children. It hurts children’s emotions and affects their academic performance. Children may also be averse to returning home and roaming on the streets if their fathers are usually drunk. Interestingly, migration also resulted in changes in social status and roles. In their studies, Rigg (2007) & Hugo (2002), reveal that after migration women’s status and role in the household economy and community improves. Such changes put pressure on spousal relations and threaten the masculinity of husbands.

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