Migrant families “on the move” carry legacy of statelessness

The predicament of transnational migrants is a global issue, with heartbreaking headlines from Africa to Asia and the Americas. Lack of identity documentation and citizenship can be a multigenerational legacy that creates hardships for children and families who are already living on the margins. New research points to simple solutions that could have great impact.

Two University of Victoria researchers, Drs. Leslie Butt and Jessica Ball, and Australian collaborator Dr. Harriot Beazley, have completed a two-year pilot study in southeast Asia on the risks and impacts of migration on children either left behind or born stateless. Indonesians make up one of the world’s largest outgoing streams of undocumented labourers and the children of Indonesians who leave home for migrant work—frequently in unsafe and disempowering conditions—often lack documentation which identifies them as citizens of their country. The researchers found that these children are often stateless because the birth registration process does not consider the circumstances of parents on the move. Stateless children have difficulty accessing health care, education and social services; often experience stigma and violence; and are at high risk of being exploited and trafficked.

One of the recommendations is to embed a greatly simplified and no-cost birth registration process in widely used birthing centres and primary health care programs in local villages. The study found that mothers lack the social position and resources to take on the birth registration process. Efforts to educate and inform parents about birth registration need to include fathers; however, with many fathers forced to find work overseas, the birth registration process should be simplified so that mothers and even grandparents (who often care for children of migrant parents) can successfully complete the process themselves.

Butt, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at UVic, conducts research on family responses to Indonesian institutions—including family planning and health care—and how decisions impact children’s wellbeing. Ball, a professor in UVic’s School of Child and Youth Care and the architect of several early childhood development training programs in Canada and Southeast Asia, conducts research on the cultural nature of children and family development; diversity of fathers’ involvement; and innovative approaches to increase father involvement. Both are research affiliates of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI) at UVic. Beazley, based at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, is a human geographer who specializes in children’s rights and community development in Indonesia.

This study is supported through CAPI and by a 2013 Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. More info

On June 11 to 13, CAPI is presenting an international conference at UVic examining transnational migration from both academic and activist perspectives. Keynote speaker Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori, University of Waikato, New Zealand, is an internationally recognized scholar of decolonization. Her lecture on June 12, entitled “Disappeared, banished, murdered and displaced – What is happening to Indigenous communities in the 21st century?” is free and open to the public. More event info