Who is taking care of our children and parents?

With labour migration, separation takes place. Grandparents are separated from their children and grandchildren. Husbands are separated from their wives and children from their parents. This separation cannot be seen as positive and the ECPM manifesto addresses this issue:

“The EU should facilitate the Member States only in considering issues that are crossing borders. The most important item is the social consequences of labour migration. […] The root of this problem is the extreme focus on economic participation and job emancipation for women. The extreme focus on the economy instead of on the well-being of people has led to one-sided policies in EU and Member State legislation. This mistake needs to be corrected.”

The international migration of a parent can have both positive as negative effects on the children and the family left behind. The economic situation of those left behind can improve and this can provide for better education to the children, better health and living conditions. However, studies show that the negative effects, especially on the children, are greater than the possible positive effects. NGOs estimate that in EU member states like Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, for example, 500,000 to one million children grow up without parents – the euro orphans. Experts call this situation a social disaster. School attendance drops in many cases and behavioural and emotional problems for children are a consequence of one or both parents’ migration. UNICEF studies show that children and teenagers left behind are prone to drug use, psycho-social dysfunction, teen pregnancies and criminal behaviour.[1]

In most cases the father is the one leaving the country to find work, this often has negative effects on the amount of paid work women do. Women are forced to quit their jobs partially or entirely in most of the cases, being constrained to a life they do not necessarily prefer but quietly accept.  Even though ECPM disagrees with the view that a career is more important than raising children, it does not support a view that is oblivious to women’s choices in favour of raising a family.  ECPM does believe that like raising children and having a family, having a fulfilling job can be beneficial for both woman and man.  However, these work relations should be in a healthy balance with family life.

The negative effects of labour migration are not only felt by the spouses and the children but also by the grandparents left behind. In most of the eastern countries the tradition is still followed that children take care of their parents when they get old. For this reason, elderly houses are rather scarce in most of these countries. Labour migration has caused a great number of elderly people to be left alone and helpless. They are depending on the help of their neighbours and the state, not of their children.

The main argument leaving the elderly parents behind is the financial contribution that can result from this, also for the elderly parents. Studies show that in reality, elderly persons with migrant children are often less taken care of, their health is poorer and their financial situation does not improve.[2]

In most southern-eastern EU countries, the elderly were dependent on informal care (provided by the family, relatives and neighbours) rather than formal care (institutions). Labour migration has shown that informal care has decreased in recent years and future predictions show no form of improvement if things are left unchanged.  Eastern European governments do not have the financial resources to create a welfare system similar as in Western Europe.[3] And even many western European governments recognize now that it will be impossible to sustain the “welfare state”. This means that both western and eastern European governments have to be aware that the tradition and willingness by the family to take care of the elderly is diminishing while the state will be unable to financially compensate for this.

ECPM urges the EU member states to pay more attention to this reality and its destructive consequences for the family and ultimately society. While respecting the freedom of movement each EU citizen enjoys, the state cannot adopt any laws that prevent citizens from migrating to wherever they want. What the state can and should do is reform the policies on social care, housing and health care in the light of the new challenges labour migration brings. These reforms should be based on the relational paradigm and not only on financial figures. Governments need to take the relational factor into account. Children and elderly persons cannot be left uncared for in a civilized continent.


[1] http://www.unicef.org/socialpolicy/index_migration.html
[2] http://spot.colorado.edu/~antmanf/Antman_LeftBehindBookChapter.pdf  
[3] http://www.helps-project.eu/

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