19 April 2019
On 17-18 April, over 40 experts and practitioners from 15 countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and South Caucasus gathered in Bucharest to discuss the situation of children left behind due to the migration of parents for labour reasons.
On the first day, the event opened with the premiere viewing of the short feature film “Blue Heart”, a touching story about the immigration of a woman forced to leave her children behind in order to work abroad. The film was introduced by Violeta Bîrlă, a young film director from Romania living in Italy, and tells the universal story of the sacrifices women endures while working abroad in the hope for a better future for their children. The director Violeta Bîrla was herself abandoned in Romania by parents at the children’s house in Vrancea, but she succeeded in overcoming her condition and is now an advocate for children and women’s rights.
Sandra Pralog, State Adviser at the President Administration (Department for the Relation with Romanians from Abroad) followed the film viewing and presented some of the findings from the official Report on Children with Parents Away for Labour of the Interinstitutional Working Group consisting of 72 people representing 6 ministries, 14 government agencies, 13 non-governmental organizations and two UN agencies. Mrs Pralog highlighted the discrepancies regarding the number of children in the evidence of various Ministries and local authorities and the estimated number of children reported by NGOs. “This is a pan regional challenge. Our countries should get together to bring this issue to the attention of the European community because that’s where this regional perspective can be translated in terms of policy recommendations, but also in terms of funding of programs that are needed to deal with this problem. Romania can take a leading role on putting this issue on the European agenda, but it should be a leading role of one amongst peers as every country counts equally.” Mrs Pralog highlighted.
Cristina Rigman, ChildPact Secretary General, highlighted the fact that countries like Romania start to be, are at the same time, host countries for migrants coming to work and should therefore set an example. Mrs Rigman declared: “We see more and more workers from Asian countries coming to Romania for work reasons. It is our chance to showcase a model of responsibility of the host countries towards the working migrants they host and towards their children left behind in the country of origin.”
Corina Marinescu from the National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption in Romania gave an overview of the child protection system in Romania at central level, at local (county) level and at community level.
The morning session dedicated to the Romanian perspectives continued with the interventions of Alexandru Gulei from Alternative Sociale Romania and Eduard Petrescu from Unicef Romania.
Daniela Bocsa from the Federation of Nongovernmental Organizations for Children in Romania (FONPC) declared: “350.000 is the number of children which are affected by parental migration in Romania. 126.000 of them are affected by the departure of both parents and half of them are under 10 years old.”
Kirsten Theuns from Terre des Hommes Eastern Europe Delegation talked about some of the findings from the countries where the organization has operations at the community level such as Ukraine, Moldova and Romania, where children left behind were included in the interventions. Mrs Theuns called for building blocks for a programme intervention on children left behind and suggested four areas of intervention: 1) Framework improvement: Government policy and legal frameworks ensure access to quality services across the continuum of care; 2) Children & Family Empowerment: children left behind and their families are socio-emotional competent and well informed about relevant issues; 3) Capacity building & Networking; 4) Non-formal and formal actors work together to address new threats and capture new opportunities as well as capacity of key local actors in the child protection system is built.
Ina Radkova from National Network for Children Bulgaria highlighted that in Bulgaria every fourth or fifth child has at least one parent who works and lives abroad. From a study research conducted 992 students (age 11-18) it resulted that 25,9 % of the children are left behind by at least one parent or one of the parents is a foreigner and lives abroad. “The ethnic background represents a risk factor as children with Turkish and Roma descent have more than 50% of their parents living abroad.”
Carolina Buzdugan from APSCF Moldova highlighted the fact that in Moldova, collecting data about children alone at home differs from one institution to another, therefore the situation of these children is not always clear. “There are many challenges for the psycho-pedagogical and social assistance. Mechanisms of cross-sectoral cooperation exist, but they do not work locally and this limits the interventions of the professionals and the access of children to appropriate services”, Mrs Buzdugan highlighted.
In the afternoon, participants to the conference had the opportunity to make a field visit to St. Dimitrie Foundation, Center for Education and Community Support and Terre des Hommes Foundation in Bucharest.
On the second day of the conference, Silvia Dumitrache from Association of Romanian Women in Italy open the day and talked about the need to acknowledge the fact that the transnational family is a reality in our region. Mrs Dumitrache invited all actors to contribute in designing better prevention and integrated services that focus on the family as a whole, not only children.
Anna Arganashvili from the Coalition for Children and Youth Georgia brought the issue of guardianship and legal representation of children whose parents migrate for work. Most often the mandate of a legal guardian is to safeguard the child’s best interests, ensure her overall well-being, complement her limited legal capacity and sometimes to exercise legal representation.“No child should be without the support and protection of a legal guardian or other recognized responsible adult or competent public body at any time”, Ms Arganashvili highlighted.
Alexandru Gulei from Alternative Sociale Romania presented some of the organisations’ methodologies, tools and training for the professionals working with children left behind, while Ina Radkova from the National Network for Children in Bulgaria presented a complex case study of a Roma family in Ruse and its cumbersome journey through the bureaucracy in relationship with the state authorities.
Tamara Barbakadze from Child Protection Network Armenia / World Vision Armenia had a presentation about interventions, challenges and results of a World Vision research on left behind children of labor migrant parents in Aragatsotn, Armenia. Mrs Barbakadze highlighted a substantial research gap at the national level where there is no data available on the number of children left behind and no specific evaluation to analyze the needs and vulnerability of these children.
Voica Tomus from UNICEF Romania presented some model of integrated service delivery in 45 communities in Bacau county of Romania and introduced the “Aurora” project – a new tablet application the social workers in Romania are now using in order to maintain up-to-date information on the families and children with whom they work.
In the afternoon, the participants were split into 4 groups for a world cafe session that had the following topics: 1) Data Collection, 2) Required Legal Changes / Legal Guardianship, 3) Work Migration: Causes / Prevention / Terminology / Structure of the system and 4) Best Interest of the Child / Child Participation.
In the closing session of the event, the joint statement of the conference was discussed and endorsed by the organisations and participants who once again acknowledged the transnational dimension phenomenon and agreed that in this context of transnational welfare networks, all parties involved have a duty to ensure that the vulnerabilities and risks to children are reduced to a minimum. The joint statement of the conference is available here.
On the follow-up activity planning for ChildPact members held in the third day it was decided that the topic of children left behind will remain on ChildPact’s agenda and future opportunities will be pursued in order to offer the space to facilitate meaningful exchanges at the regional level.
A short video with interviews from the event is available below.