Children's work and independent child migration: A critical review

Type Working Paper - UNICEF Innocenti Working Paper No. 2009-19
Title Children's work and independent child migration: A critical review
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2009
This review considers the evidence from child labor research that is relevant to understanding independent child migration for work. Child labour research is relevant to the study of independent child migration for work in three ways. First, migration for work is one of the many possible alternatives for child time allocation. The methodological and analytical tools used in the study of child labor are thus applicable to the study of independent child migration for work. Second, independent child migration for work will be reduced by factors that improve alternatives to migration. Child labor at home is one possible alternative to migrating. Thus, influences on child labor will affect independent child migration for work by altering the pressures that push children into migration. Third, the issues that arise in understanding why employers use children are also relevant to understanding what factors pull children into migration.

In existing data resources, two methods are used to identify independent child migrants: the roster method and the fertility survey method. The roster approach identifies migrants by enumerating residents in sampled households. As such, it measures migrants in destination areas and misses children that are difficult to locate, especially those who migrate out of country. The fertility survey method has mothers explain the status of all of their children. This is useful for identifying origin areas for the migrants but is uninformative about the current condition of the child migrant. Stronger data collection efforts are necessary to better measure the extent of working independent child migrants and understand both the source and the living conditions of independent child migrants.

Most existing efforts to understand motives for independent child migration draw conclusions by asking respondents in destination areas why they migrate. This approach is uninformative about motives for independent child migration for two reasons. First, it lacks a comparison population of children from similar background who could have migrated but did not migrate. Second, it is very hard to interpret a single response to such a multifaceted and complex decision as the one for a child to migrate independently and work. This latter point is obvious when child independent migration is considered within a more general time allocation perspective, and it implies that little is to be gained in the design of research by focusing only on trying to capture children who migrate "for work".

Overall, the findings in child labor research offer a great deal of evidence that is relevant for understanding child migrant supply, especially regarding factors that might push children towards migration. However, child labor research is weakest on understanding child labor demand. Hence, it is least useful in understanding what factors pull children into independent child migration. . Developing a broader understanding both of the incidence of independent child migrants in poor countries and the sectors these independent child migrants work in is important for developing and targeting future policies aimed at helping these vulnerable children. When appropriate populations are identified, the scientific evaluation of programs aimed at deterring migration or ameliorating its risks is critical. Researchers need to be involved in programs at their inception in order to improve our capacity to aid child migrants as efficiently and effectively as possible.

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