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Reading: Left-behind children of migrant women: Difficulties encountered and strengths demonstrated


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Left-behind children of migrant women: Difficulties encountered and strengths demonstrated


BCV Senaratna

Department of Community Medicine, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, LK
About BCV

Senior Lecturer in Community Medicine, University of Sri Jayewardenepura

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Introduction: Labour export is the main source of foreign exchange earning for Sri Lanka. Women form 52% of this and when they migrate, many of them leave behind their children who face abuse and neglect as a result.

Objectives: To describe the difficulties encountered by these children and strengths demonstrated by them and to describe factors associated with the difficulties they encounter.

Method: A qualitative, descriptive cross-sectional study was carried out in administrative districts of Colombo, Gampaha and Kurunegala. Data was collected through focus group discussions with school teachers and semi-structured interviews with primary carers of migrants’ children and religious leaders.

Results: Qualitative content analysis of data showed emergence of several themes. These children performed poorly in academic activities, lacked concentrating abilities and failed to improve despite additional help. They did not participate in extra-curricular activities due to poor moral support and had a wide range of behavioural problems such as aggression, cruelty, stealing, hyperactivity, disruptive behaviour etc. They found it difficult to establish new relationships and sustain existing ones, including relationships with parents. Many children were physically, psychologically, emotionally and sexually abused and most were neglected by their carers. They also lacked acceptable role models. However, some children had strengths to cope with stressors resulting from mothers’ absence, were mature in thinking and behaviour, survived in many situations without help and found access to adequate human and physical resources. Mothers’ migration, poor emotional bonding with substitute carers, inadequacy in physical, financial, and human resources, disadvantaged social conditions and behaviours of adults in families increased their difficulties.

Conclusions: Migrant women’s children have many difficulties resulting from mothers’ absence. Their strengths to face life’s challenges, comparatively, seem minimal.

(Key words: Migrant women; children; behaviour; difficulties; strengths; Sri Lanka)


How to Cite: Senaratna, B., 2012. Left-behind children of migrant women: Difficulties encountered and strengths demonstrated. Sri Lanka Journal of Child Health, 41(2), pp.71–75. DOI:
Published on 11 Jun 2012.
Peer Reviewed


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