Sun | Aug 30, 2015

In search of a better life

Published:Sunday | May 2, 2010
Many children of migrants have been left in the care of their grandparents or with older siblings.

FOR MANY Jamaicans, their dream is to get a visa and go to 'foreign'.

And in most cases, 'foreign' is the United States (US), Canada or Britain.

But what happens to the family members left behind? And how does the migration of parents affect the children left with older siblings, a grandmother, or a friend?

This was the subject of a recent study of three inner-city communities in the Corporate Area.

The study, jointly done by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP and the European Commission (EC) between October and December last year, found that persons in the 30- to 39- year-old age group comprised the largest number of migrants.

Data gathered from Whitfield Town, Greenwich Town and Rose Town showed that 53 per cent of persons who had migrated from these communities went to the US, 28 per cent to the United Kingdom, while 14 per cent went to Canada.

The majority, 33 per cent, left Jamaica more than 10 years ago, while nine per cent left the country just under one year ago.

The primary reasons given for migration included "seeking a better life, seeking employment, joining family, educational opportunities".

Interestingly, more men than women listed violence and insecurity as their reasons for migrating.

Lisa Taylor-Stone, CEO of Silverstone and Platt Research Solutions, the company that conducted the study, noted that the majority of the migrants were from the core of economically active Jamaicans seeking job opportunities and a better life.

Taylor-Stone cautioned that the baseline study, which was descriptive, required further analysis, as it was difficult to make inferences and establish associations until further studies were done.

The study found that three in every four families in the communities had been affected by migration, with 74 per cent of households having at least one child who had a parent living overseas.

No parenting skills

Many of these children have been left in the care of their grandparents or with older siblings.

These older siblings, whose average age is 17 years, are usually the primary caregivers despite not having any parenting skills.

An older relative, typically an uncle, aunt or a neighbour who forms part of the support network left in place by the migrating parent, usually assists them.

Behavioural problems were also found to be common among children of migrant parents, with unruly and violent behaviour, teenage pregnancies and involvement in gangs being the major issues in the absence of parental supervision.

The data showed that 34 per cent of girls were better able to cope with the absence of a migrant parent, compared to 30 per cent for boys who were found to be lacking in confidence.

In terms of reported school performance, boys also fared worse than girls.

philip.hamilton@gleanerjm.com