Stateless children, parents & undocumented migration: An Indonesian case study

women holding their records of birth and immunization at a local maternal and child health centre in Lombok
Women holding their records of birth and immunization at a local maternal and child health centre in Lombok, Indonesia.

In 2017, CAPI Visiting Scholar Leslie Butt (UVic Department of Anthropology) and Jessica Ball (UVic Child and Youth Care) completed the writing up and publication of results from a SSHRC Insight Development Grant obtained in 2014 on undocumented migrant families and birth registration. The project, entitled Stateless Children, Parents, and Undocumented Migration: An Indonesian Case Study, involved field research in East Lombok in four separate rural communities with high levels of out-migration. Butt, Ball and collaborator Harriot Beazley (University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia) spent a total of 12 weeks in Jakarta and in East Lombok in 2014-2016.

photo of Leslie Butt in the field in Indonesia
Lead investigator Leslie Butt with research participants

Children of migrants tend to live in highly fragmented families, with little infrastructural support, and in precarious economic conditions. Typically, parents and children are not registered at birth and lack formal identity documents. This is not unusual: one third to one half of all children in the world lack birth registration. The research team investigated how transnational migrant families in Indonesia think about and make decisions around whether to seek birth registration for children who stay behind while parents engage in migration. The research team spent time in four rural villages in East Lombok, Indonesia where they conducted focus groups, interviews with stakeholders, and interviews with members of more than 40 families, in order to hear their perspectives on birth registration.

The study found links between an engrained pattern of labour migration, low birth registration, and difficulty accessing registration services. Many families shared stories of extreme poverty, exploitative work conditions for migrating parents, and difficulties making sure their children’s needs were met while they were away at work. The study also found very low birth registration rates of just 12% of respondents. The findings demonstrate the value of listening to families, and of exploring fully their views on multiple barriers to birth registration. Families need policies to recognize accessibility issues for mobile populations, and to offer effective support with childrearing as a means to counteract the potential long-term debilitating effects of statelessness in transnational migrant families.

Drs. Ball and Beazley talking with research participants
Jessica Ball and Harriet Beazley disseminating results to stakeholders in East Lombok

The team is committed to spreading their research results among stakeholders and research participants. In 2016, Drs. Ball and Beazley traveled to Jakarta and Lombok to meet with various groups to discuss research results and set in motion next steps in research and activism around the issue of birth registration for migrant families.

In 2016, Dr. Jessica Ball received the UVic Provost’s Engaged Scholar Award for community-engaged scholarship achievements and service over three decades, including the Indonesia project which involved a partnership with Mataram University and community-based research in Indonesia.

Research Reports

Title Author Date

Birth Registration and Protection for Children of Transnational Labor Migrants in Indonesia

Jessica Ball, Leslie Butt & Harriet Beazley 2017

Migrant Mothers and the Sedentary Child Bias: Constraints on Child Circulation in Indonesia

Butt, Beazley & Ball 2017

‘Like It, Don't Like It, You Have to Like It’: Children's Emotions and Absent Parents in Migrant Communities of Lombok, Indonesia

Beazley, Butt & Ball 2017

The Relational Ethics of Cultural Safety, Rights, and Desire: Reflections on Doing Community-Engaged Research with Migrant Families in Indonesia

Ball & Beazley 2017

False papers and family fictions: household responses to ‘gift children’ born to Indonesian women during transnational migration

Butt, Ball & Beazley 2016

Birth Registration in Southeast Asia: a Child’s Foundation Right?

Butt & Ball 2016

Transnational Migrant Families, Child Statelessness, and Decisions about Birth Registration (Four-page Summary)

Butt, Ball & Beazley 2015
Pengambilan keputusan keluarga dalam pencatatan kelahiran di kalangan pekerja migran transnasional di Indonesia: Implikasi bagi kibijakan dan praktik pelaksanaannya (Indonesian Translation) Butt, Ball & Beazley 2015

Family Decision Making about Birth Registration among Transnational Migrants in Indonesia (One-page summary)

Butt, Ball & Beazley


Children and Families on the Move: Stateless Children in Indonesia

Preliminary Field Research Report, Lombok and Jakarta, May 2014

Ball, Butt & Beazley


Working papers