Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Left Behind: The Experiences of Children of the Caribbean Whose Parents Have Migrated

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Left Behind: The Experiences of Children of the Caribbean Whose Parents Have Migrated

Article excerpt


The Caribbean region has high levels of both intraregional and international migration. The United Nations Secretariat (2002) estimates the net migration rate for the Caribbean as being the highest worldwide, with international migration being the dominant form. The magnitude of the Caribbean Diaspora is reflected in the sizable Caribbean communities in North America and Europe (Ferguson, 2003; Foner, 1998, 2001; Prachi, 2007; United Nations Secretariat, 2005) which was estimated to be over six million in the mid 1990s (Nurse, 2004). The impact of this movement has received much attention within the empirical literature in the past decade. However, available research has focused largely on economic challenges and benefits (Blank, 2007; Cortes, 2008; D'Emilio et al., 2007; Palmer, 1990), with less attention directed towards the effects on the children left behind when parents migrate (Bakker, Elings-Pels, & Reis, 2009; Crawford-Brown, 1999; Dobson, 2009; Toyota, Yeoh, & Nguyen, 2007).

Estimates range from 10 to 20% of children in some Caribbean countries who do not reside with at least one of their parents due to international migration (Blank, 2007) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that 17% of children born to two-parent families in Mexico will have a migrating father at some time in their childhood (Cortes, 2008). The limited research suggests that for some children the outcome can be negative resulting in emotional, psychological, behavioural, educational, and health challenges (Bakker et al., 2009; Crawford-Brown, 1997; Jones, Sogren, & Shaipe, 2004; Pottinger, 2005). This finding is comparable to studies conducted outside the region, including Asia, China, and Africa, which also point to the fallouts for some children and the need to address the issues (Lopez-Ekra, Aghazarm, Kotier, & Mollard, 2011; Madianou & Miller, 2011; Whitehead & Hashim, 2005). Regardless of whether one or both parents migrate, children experience the effects in their health, education and overall well-being (Battistella & Conaco, 1998; Madianou & Miller, 2011). The studies from outside the region suggest that the effects on children in the home country differ according to country and gender of the migrating parent, with outcomes being better in some countries than others (Whitehead & Hashim, 2005). When fathers leave, these studies concentrate on the role of remittances and the vulnerability of female-headed households (Chen, Huang, Rozelle, Shi, & Zhang, 2009; Giannelli & Mangiavacchi, 2010; Khun, 2006). In the case of mother out-migration, the highlights are psycho-social impacts and changing gender roles as a result of family break"Faculty up (Asís, 2006; Parreñas, 2002). In situations where both parents migrate, an additional factor includes the hardship faced by grandparents (Giannelli & Mangiavacci, 2010).

The purpose of this paper is to review the literature on the impact of parental migration on Caribbean children and to suggest directions for further research. To do this, we provide a background on migration in the Caribbean, a summary of the major theories guiding migration studies, and the method for retrieving studies. This is followed by a presentation of the results, the limitations of the review, discussions, and conclusions.


An acceptable description of the Caribbean should consider issues related to culture, history, politics, economics and geography (Girvan, 2001; Granger, 2010; Skelton, 2004). No standard definition currently exists which captures all these factors and no specific definition is considered to be correct, rather it is based on context (Girvan, 2001 ). This paper focuses on a geopolitical definition because it allows some opportunity for a wide comparison of studies across the Region. Within this context, the Association of Caribbean States (2003) identifies a 'Greater Caribbean Zone' comprising 25 countries bordering the Caribbean Sea. …

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