Research Project

Children Living Apart from Parents due to Internal Migration(CLAIM)

This proposal addresses the main elements of the study on “The Impact of Internal Migration on “Children Left-Behind” in Thailand”, proposed to UNICEF by the Institute for Population Research (IPSR), Mahidol University. We first discuss the research background, the research objectives, previous studies in the Thai context, and the conceptual framework. The research design in terms of the target population, sampling strategy, and research tool are then explained. Finally, we outline some issues of logistics that need to be considered including proposed time frame and budget.


Thailand, a middle-income country in Asia, houses almost 64 million of population. Around one fifth of its population is younger than 15, while 12% aged 60 and older. More than one third of Thai population (36%) lives in urban area. Over the past 2 decades, Thailand has experienced a low fertility with the current level of total fertility rate (TFR) is 1.5. The life expectancy is 76.3 for females and 69.5 for males (Institute for Population and Social Research, 2010). Though there are minorities, Thai population is considered relatively homogeneous, especially in terms of language and religion. The majority of Thai population speaks Thai and adheres to Buddhists ideology.

Thailand has been both a sending and receiving country. In addition to sending migrants overseas and receiving migrants from neighboring countries, over the past 30 years, internal migration, especially from the Northeast to the Bangkok metropolitan area and surrounding provinces, and more recently from the South, has played an important role in Thailand’s economic transformation. In the Thai context, working in other places than usual residence is common. That Bangkok and metropolitan areas are the major destinations of the majority of internal migrants is a well-known fact. Data from National Statistics Office suggest that around 12% of total in-migrants moved to Bangkok and metropolitans (calculated from NSO data in 2000). As result, internal migrants comprise a substantial proportion of Bangkok residents. Research documents that around one third of population in Bangkok is migrants from other provinces (Archavanitkul et al., 1993).

While study on migration to understand mobility patterns, why people move, and its consequences on receiving places has been ample, relatively little attention has been paid to assessing its impact on sending communities generally, and more specifically on children left-behind by migrating parents. Data at national level show that the percentage of children under age 18 living with grandparents without both parents increase in the past two decades, from about 2% in 1986 to 8% in 2006 (data calculated from the Socioeconomic Survey of Thailand in 1986 and 2006). Answers to questions such as what are the psycho-social impacts of migration on children left-behind, and are these children more likely to engage in risky behaviors than

their counterparts remain vague. Providing these answers is important in designing and implementing policies in order to maximize the positive effects of migration and minimize its negative effects on migrants, their families, and communities of origin and destination.

Given the magnitude of internal migration flows and the positive and negative impacts they may have, the Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University is proposing to UNICEF Thailand to conduct a research project that collects quantitative data on the impact of parental internal migration on those left-behind, paying special attention to children and their caretakers. The results of this project, in addition to Thailand policy impact, would also be part of a larger global initiative undertaken by UNICEF on researching the impact of migration on children left-behind.

The overall objective of this study is to investigate impacts of parental internal migration on health and wellbeing of children left behind. We are particularly interested in physical health and psycho-social dimension of children’s wellbeing. We would also further explore whether impacts of parental internal migration on children are mediated by the wellbeing of caretakers, household socio-economic status, and community characteristics.

Impacts of Migration on Children Left Behind in Thailand

Previous study in other context suggests that migration affects wellbeing of migrants’ children in two ways.  A study on the impact of migration on Mexican children’s educational aspirations and performance (Kandel and Kao, 2001) shows that migration allows parents to provide more education to children and reduces the need for children’s labor. At the same time, labor migration also has negative impacts on children as it provides an example of an alternative route to economic mobility. Kandel and Kao’s study (2001) found that high levels of U.S. migration are associated with lower aspirations to attend a university.

In Thailand, despite migration is a common life event of many people, research on impacts of migration on left behind family has been limited. Recent studies on migration extensively focus on illegal immigrants and their children (from Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Cambodia) seen as living in much worse conditions compared to migrants and children left behind by Thai migrant parents. Among a few studies addressing impacts of migration on children left behind, most are small-scale. Very few looked at main stream migrants or comparing migrants with non-migrant population. Some existing studies seem to suggest that children of Thai migrant parents do not appear to encounter greater difficulties than other children. Another limitation of previous study lies on being unable to distinguish effects of internal and international migration.
Findings from existing studies in Thailand reveal negative, positive, and mixed impacts of migration on family left behind, especially of this proposed study’s interest, children. A study on intelligence development among 558 school-age children and adolescents and their caretakers in 4 provinces (Nanthamongkolchai et al., 2006) is one among studies that show negative outcome of migration. The researchers explore impacts on children’s IQ, morbidity in the past 6 months, nutritional status, and development. The study finds a negative relationship between parental migration and child development and inappropriate child caring. The study shows that children who live in households that have migrants are 1.4 times more likely to have low IQ than their counterparts.
Past research also shows that migration is associated with family instability. A study by Puapongsakorn and Sangthanapurk (1988) suggests that international migration is related to marital disruption and a rise in child truancy. Another small qualitative study suggested a burden of taking a role as a caregiver among grandparents of internal migrant children who left small kids with grandparents, especially when remittance is relatively small (Jampaklay, 2009).

A few studies show no impacts of migration. Jones and Kittisuksatit (2003) compare outcomes for overseas migrants and non-migrants and find no significant differences in marital disruption among households without migrants, with current migrants, and with returned migrants. The same study also indicates little evidence that children left behind by migrant parents experience a higher incidence of social problems. The authors reported that respondents saw international migration as an effective way of meeting basic material needs and as a precondition of what they conceive as quality of life. However, the study also notes that respondents regard international migration of parents as an experience that both parents and child development, Nanthamongkolchai et al. (2006) indicates no relationship between parental migration and child’s sickness in the past 6 months and nutritional status. It seems that whether or not migration has impacted family left behind or children left behind, to be specific, depends on, among other things, what aspects of wellbeing researcher look at.

In a quantitative analysis using a longitudinal dataset, Kanchanaburi DSS, Jampaklay (2006) shows mixed impacts of parental absence on children’s educational attainment. The analysis reveals a negative effect of long-term absence of mother, a negative effect of short-term absence of father, but a positive effect of long-tern absence of father. Results are thus mixed lending importance of duration of absence as well as who is absent, mother or father. The study, however, could not detect different effects of parental migration from other types of parental absence, i.e. marital dissolution, due to data limitation.

While several studies above suggest negative consequence of migration, positive impacts of migration on left behind family are also found. In their qualitative study, Knodel and Saengtienchai (2005) show that internal migration of children has positive impacts on parents of migrants and that extended family relations maintained over geographical distances because of modern advances in communication techniques. The study concludes that distance does not prevent financial assistance and emotional ties and social exchange between parents and adult children. The study, however, is concerned that current low fertility level of the Thai society may pose new challenges to maintaining a ‘modified extended family’ and could substantially change the implications of migration for the well being of the parent

Positive impacts of migration are also indicated in a study by Abas et al. (2009). Out-migration of all children, compared with out-migration of some or no children, was independently associated with less depression in parents. The association remained after taking account of social support, parent characteristics, health and wealth. Researchers suggest that parents with all children out-migrated received more economic remittances and they perceived support to be as good as that of those with children close by.

A probably most recent and most comprehensive survey, which is, in fact, on-going, is CHAMPSEA (Child Health and Migrant Parents in Southeast Asia), a comparative study conducted in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Philippines. Especially in Thailand, the study is the first population-based survey focusing on parents’ international migration on health of children left behind. The study hypothesizes different impacts of maternal and paternal migration/on sons and daughters/on young and older child, using mixed methods of survey of 1,000 hhs (migrant and non migrant) in two highest sending areas and in-depth interviews of 41 caregivers. As the study is not yet completed, no results are yet available. Some observation from interviews with community leaders provides some insights, however. According to community informants, delinquency and deviant behavior among youth, mostly raised by grandparents, are due in part to lack of parental supervision because of migration. Left behind mothers tend to over-protect their children. Remittance, generally seen as a main benefit of migration on family left behind, could also spoil migrants’ children. Therefore, in views of community informants, children of migrant parent, especially paternal migrants, are perceived as more problematic due to more money they receive from migrant parents. Despite potentially negative impacts of overseas migration pointed out by community leaders, they feel that parental overseas migration is viewed by return migrants or members of family with overseas migrants in a positive way and outweigh any negative consequences.   

Although CHAMPSEA may be the most comprehensive survey ever in Thailand context, its major drawback is that it does not take into account effects of parens’ internal migration. Despite potential impacts of internal migration, as a prevalent phenomenon and that internal migration is selective towards disadvantaged people, systematic study on impacts of internal migration on family left behind, especially children, has been scarce. In fact, actual fieldwork (e.g. in CHAMPSEA study) suggests that most of informants are much more concerned with the wellbeing of internal migrants’ children than children of overseas migrants. Thus, while we are looking forward to learning from findings from CHAMPSEA study which is focused on international migration, internal migration and family left behind can no longer be overlooked.

Project Status:     Finish
Principal Investigator: Aree Jampaklay
Researcher: Patama Vapattanawong , Kanchana Tangchonlatip , Kerry Richter , Nipat Ponphai , Charita Hayeetae