MANILA — Some six million children of Filipino overseas workers bear the brunt of the social costs of migration, according to the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In a paper presentation at a forum in Manila, UNICEF deputy country representative Colin Davis said that the children of OFWs, as Filipino overseas workers are called, are the most affected by the separation with their parents who are working abroad to give them a better future.
Davis got the figures from 2000 government statistics that says that 56 percent of OFWS are married. Out of this number, there are one million men and one million women who have an average of three children per family. Translated to six million OFW children, they are left to the care of trusted relatives or household help.
Sociologists call it “social costs of migration which painful effects are beyond measure and must be analyzed critically at the policy level.”
Just like their parents, the children of OFWs suffer from anxiety caused by separation at an age when they are young, helpless and vulnerable, said Davis.
“The situation must be studied well so as to remedy the negative effects that migration brings to these children,” he stressed.
Experts recommend the opening of communication lines between parents and children and that OFWs write, call and talk more often to their children.
Sociologists also recommend that OFWs refrain from sending more money and buying material things for their children to compensate for the lost time and their lack of physical visibility.
Surrogate parents who may be are grandparents, aunts, uncles, elder siblings or house helps must also be given proper information and orientation on how to rear OFW children in the absence of their parents.
With the absence of parental care, these children of OFWs look for the needed attention and warmth elsewhere other than their relatives which they find wanting.
They resort to early relationships that often lead to premarital sex, unwanted pregnancies, drug abuse or drop out of school most of the time, various studies have found.
A Department of Education report noted that less than one percent of the 8,670 high school students surveyed in 2006 admitted to have been using illegal drugs to compensate for the temporary loss of their migrant parents.
Executive Director Rosemarie Edillon of the Asia-Pacific Policy Center said in her paper that OFWs admitted to failing to reach out to their children due to physical distance and that they could no longer give attention to their teenage children aged 13 and 16.
Edillon further explained that children of OFWs whose age ranges from six to eight years old are more vulnerable than children of non-OFWs. Besides being less taken cared of, these children are given household responsibilities that are heavy for their age.
Girl children who are first-borns carry the responsibilities left by their mothers because the Filipino culture obliges women to take good care of the family, watch over younger children and do more household tasks.
“Children loss 80 percent of mother’s care,” Aurora Javate-de Dios, executive director of Miriam College’s Women and Gender Institute said.