What is the price tag on a child left behind by migration?

While I attend a high-profile conference analysing the trends and flows of migration remittances in the Kyrgyz Republic I get a bit dizzy and overwhelmed by numbers, charts and figures. Indeed 35 per cent of the GDP of the country comes from remittances, money that migrant workers living abroad send back to their families, truly an amazing amount of wealth which “influences the entire economic development prospective and the overall social contract between the state and the citizens”.

However, I cannot stop thinking about how the GDP considers the value of an amazingly tender five-year-old girl called Jana with whom I played a few days ago. She lives in a family shelter not far from Bishkek while both her parents earn money abroad. I then recall the great quote by President John Kennedy’s brother Robert Kennedy on the GDP — “measures everything except that which is worthwhile.”

According to available statistics, one out of ten children in the Kyrgyz Republic are in the same situation as Jana.

At UNICEF Kyrgyzstan we care for every child and, thanks to the support of the European Union, we are working to increase the positive effects of migration and simultaneously decrease the negative ones — a hard yet fundamental task for the development of the Kyrgyz Republic.

A man sitting and writing in a blue notebook .
©UNICEF/Kyrgyzstan/TIbraimov/2018Lucio Valerio Sarandea, UNICEF Kyrgyzstan Child Protection Chief writing notes during his field visit to Djalal-Abad province.

Using lessons learned in countries like Bulgaria and Moldova, who have experienced the same phenomenon, and in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, we have identified specific legislative proposals to improve the rights of the children left behind by migration.

For example, through easy registration, we shall ensure that all children have a legal representative always to protect them from risks and threats, and be entitled to all the rights enjoyed by others. Where children without parental supervision are at much higher risk of dropping out of school, violence, substance abuse and even suicide, these representatives will help.

Every child, just like Jana, is indeed priceless

At the same time, we will work to secure that all children have necessary identity documents. It might seem surprising, but six percent of students enrolled in primary schools do not have a valid birth certificate.

Every child, just like Jana, is indeed priceless. They are worth much more than any remittance and much more than any GDP will be able to estimate.


Lucio Valerio Sarandrea is Chief of Child Protection, UNICEF Kyrgyzstan.

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