Their Children and My Life Impact of Childcare on Young Mother-Substitutes of Migrant Women‟s Children

B. C. V. Senaratna


Labour migration is Sri Lanka‟s primary source of foreign exchange. Two thirdsof around 2 million Sri Lankans working overseas are females. Children of marriedmigrant women are left behind with substitute-carers, who are, in many occasions,unmarried young aunts or elder siblings of these children. The objective of this studywas to describe socio-economic and psychological impact of child-care on young-adultmother-substitutes of left-behind children and their methods of coping.

This cross-sectional study was conducted in Colombo, Gampaha, andKurunegala districts. Young-adult carers (aged 18-24 years) were identified using datafrom a field survey. Thirty five of them were randomly selected, and interviewed usingan interviewer-administered semi-structured questionnaire. Ten semi-structuredinterviews were also conducted with key informants in their respective communities.Data were analysed using qualitative content analysis.

Many young-adult carers of left-behind children were their aunts, while otherswere elder siblings. Most have never had any experience in such extensive childcare,and had been least prepared to undertake it. Many have been reluctant to undertakechildcare but forced to accept due to social obligations and unavoidable circumstances.Transition of childcare responsibility from mother to mother-substitutes has been rapid.Most claim the childcare responsibility to be stressful and also to have adverselyaffected their ambitions by (1) disrupting educational and employment opportunitiesand (2) negatively impacting on their social networking. All young-adult mothersubstitutesperceive themselves to have moderate to severe psychological stressresulting from unfamiliar task of childcare and show symptoms of stress reactions, failto uptake positive coping methods, and demonstrate maladaptive behaviours.Unexpected childcare responsibility adversely impact on social, economic, and healthdomains of unskilled young-adult carers of left-behind children. This, in turn, wouldhave negative repercussions on children themselves and warrants policy levelinterventions.

Key words: Migrant, Children, Carer, Psychological, Coping

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