COVID-19 and the exacerbated risks faced by Indonesian migrant workers’ children left behind

Jakarta, 12 October 2021 - IOM held a virtual Focus Group Discussion (FGD) on the topic of “Enhancing the Care and Protection of the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Children Left Behind” on Tuesday, 12 October 2021.

The FGD intended to further map out the current situation faced by the Indonesian migrant worker households and their children, especially given the additional challenges that are potentially resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to identify the varying local initiatives and interventions for possible scale-up in the future.

“This focus group discussion is a concerted effort to fill the information gap by attempting to understand the current situation, especially the impact that COVID-19 has had on Indonesian migrant worker children, challenges, opportunities, past lessons learned, and existing support available, as well as planned interventions to better coordinate efforts and ensure future interventions are grounded on past recommendations and evidence,” as mentioned by Zena Van-Bemmel Faulkner, Project Manager at IOM Indonesia.

Some of the intertwining issues faced by children of migrant workers left behind cannot be disconnected from the prevailing norms of gender inequality and the concept of motherhood in the country, which mostly rests the parenting role to the woman in the family. As explained by Elisabeth Dewi, an expert from the International Relations Department of Parahyangan Catholic University who has been observing this issue for about 14 years, “Most women who migrate do it for the sake of the family and not for their self-fulfillment, however, they often being stigmatized for leaving their family and children behind.”

An earlier study conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2018 showed that in many cases, alternative care is often provided from extended families who are not always fully capacitated or well informed on how to deliver sufficient support and care to the migrant workers’ children who are left behind.

“Supportive and caring alternative caregivers are paramount to the continued growth and personal development of children left behind. When my mother had to migrate and work in Singapore for 25 years to support the family, I was lucky enough to have an uncle and auntie who took care of me as if I was their own child,” said Yoga Prasetyo, an independent researcher who was also one of the guest speakers during the FGD, while sharing his experience as children of a migrant worker.

There were 43 people who attended the FGD from national, local government institutions, and CSOs. Some of them shared their experiences in supporting initiatives at the community level. They also emphasized how stronger efforts are needed especially in times of the COVID-19 pandemic when the risks are exacerbated, as many have fallen into worsening economic situations due to loss of jobs and mobility restrictions, and migrant worker families are not exempted from this.

“In West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), as one of the main source provinces of migrant workers, we have observed that there has been an increasing number of children forced into early marriage during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this significantly includes children left behind by their migrant parents. Through our program, we were able to capacitate community leaders and influencers to be more attentive and take part in addressing the issue,” said Suharti, a representative from a local NGO, SANTAI NTB.

The event and follow-up initiatives are expected to strengthen the collaboration and partnerships among concerned entities as to afford an effective synergy in ensuring the care and protection of children of migrant workers. This initiative is part of IOM’s ongoing COVID-19 Response Project, “Empowering Migrant Worker Households and Strengthening Capacities at Points of Entry in Indonesia,” or known as the PMPMI project supported by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

For more information, please contact Pya Ayunindya at IOM Indonesia. Email: sayunindya@iom.int