Left behind; When parents migrate and children stay behind

BY: Rosemary N.K. Ardayfio


Each day, hundreds of people migrate in search of a better future. Many of these are parents.  Due to stringent immigration policies, or by choice, they leave their children in their country of origin.

These children are cared for by relatives, friends and sometimes paid caregivers while the parents remain closely involved in raising their children from abroad.


To study the transnational family life between Africa and European countries the Maastricht University in the Netherlands coordinated a multi-sited research in Ghana, Nigeria and Angola.

Titled, “Transnational Child Raising Arrangements between Africa and The Netherlands” (TCRA), the project studied the effects of transnational parenting on migrant parents in the The Netherlands. Ireland, and Portugal and their children and caregivers in Ghana, Nigeria and Angola.

The Globalisation, Transnationalism and Development Research Programme of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of Maastricht University recently organised an international closing conference of the TCRA-Ghana programme to deliberate on the findings from the research projects in Amsterdam.

The conference was proceeded by a policy roundtable which discussed the policy implications of the TCRA projects.

The TCRA-Ghana project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO/WOTRO) was carried out by researchers from the Maastricht University and the University of Ghana.

Family migration law

A study on ‘Transnational mothering and family migration law: The case of Ghanaian female in The Netherlands, carried out by Prof. Valentina Mazzucato, Professor of Globalisation and Development  and Miranda Poeze, both of the Maastricht University focused on Ghanaian transnational mothers’ experiences with Dutch family migration law.

Presenting the findings Ms Poeze said indepth interviews, non-participant observations , informal talks with 32 Ghanaian transnational mothers in The Netherlands who all have experiences of separation from their children, while some have also reunited with the children in the Netherlands.

Through Ghanaian transnational mothers’ accounts of family reunification procedures and practices, the study illuminated the obstacles that Ghanaian women face in reuniting with their children and identified the income requirement as a central obstacle to family reunion.

Women, they indicated, are confronted with suspicions of the mother-child bond based on administrative obstacles, a lack of understanding of cultural practices and normative frameworks of what constitutes ‘good mothering’ practices.

“Detectives conducted research among kin and non-kin in Ghana to establish if there was a family bond between the mother and her child. Just one person who gave a different answer, usually unknown to the mother, such as neighbours, teachers and new household members, was reason enough to jeopardize family reunion,” she said.

The study also showed that gendered restrictions to family reunion and the conditions to family migration also go a long way in affecting the course of mothers’ family life. It does not only delay family reunion with children, but also reduces the flexibility in Ghanaian mothers’ strategies to produce healthy families and family relationships.

“W’aye fine”

Mrs Ernestina Korleki Dankyi, A PHD Candidate of the Centre of Migration Studies, University of Ghana also looked at daily care given in transnational child raising arrangements in a project titled “W’aye fine” - Providing Care and Practicing care in TCRAs

She said care givers of migrant children felt responsible for the children to be successful and for them to maintain cordial relationships in the TCRAs by avoiding  mistrust and tensions.

“Their care activities made them active participants in the transnational  social space,” she indicated

Presenting her findings, Mrs Dankyi said her research concluded that the success of  providing care, which involved  the day-to-day nutritional care, supervision, and training was largely dependent on the success of managing care

She said the caregivers were studied for two years and they were selected based on migrants in Amsterdam and others selected from schools in the larger TCRA project worked withn in the Greater Accra and Ashanti regions.

The caregivers were grandmothers, aunts,  biological mothers, non kin (mother’s friend, teachers) and hired caregivers.

Mrs Dankyi said managing care also entailed the invisible practices such as the management of relationships and resources

“Almost all the caregivers faced challenges with remittances. It was either insufficient  or delayed.A respondent said she received GH¢200 per month for the upkeep of five children but she spent a minimum of GHC132 per week.

Inability to manage this situation resulted in unpleasant consequences  such as children skipping school for many days .

Her study emphasised an interplay between providing care and practising care results in a well-functioning TCRA, one which children are properly taken care of, and are described as ‘w’aye fine’ (looking fine).

Impact of TCRAs on education

Dr Ernest Appiah, is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Statistical, Social and economic Research, University of Ghana, who also studied how schools in Ghana are impacted by Children who have at least one parent who migrated internationally and how the schools cater to the needs of children living in these TCRAs.

He sampled Ghanaian teachers’ and school administrators’ views of children whose parents have migrated abroad.

The study looked at attitudes and behaviours of these children, emotional and psychological factors, academic performance and school programmes to cater for TCRA children’s needs.

Dr Appiah said in his presentation that some TCRA children behaved well, participated in the school activities and are performing well academically.

“However, the general observation is that some TCRA children create many problems for their schools and teachers. The most problematic are those children who have first been abroad with their parents and then were returned home due to disciplinary issues.”



Teachers , he said, usually cope with the issues they face with TCRA children by adopting varied practices that are generally applied on any student. These include counselling, physical discipline and sometimes sheer tolerance of students.