SAN SALVADOR, Oct 18 (IPS) - Zoila, 54, is raising her two
grandchildren, who were left behind when her daughter headed to the
United States in search of a better income. There are many women like
her acting as surrogate mothers to their grandchildren in El Salvador,
one of the Latin American countries with the largest proportion of its
population living and working abroad.
Zoila tells IPS that since her 31-year-old daughter Flor migrated to the southern U.S. city of Houston, Texas in 2005, not a day has gone by that she hasn't phoned to talk to her children, David Ernesto, who is now seven, and Erica Marlene, who is 10.
"Flor calls us every day, and almost always ends up crying. She says she misses them so much, that it hurts to be so far away from her kids," she says.
"It was necessity that drove her to go. Things are really difficult in El Salvador," says Zoila, who adds that her daughter sends "a little money" every month so the children have everything they need, including notebooks for school, clothes, medicine and other basics.
The cash remittances sent home by migrants are El Salvador's main source of foreign exchange, accounting for nearly 18 percent of GDP.
Official figures indicate that nearly 27 percent of the population receives transfers from abroad. The money mainly goes towards food, clothing and paying the monthly utility bills, in this country where 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.
The Central Reserve Bank forecasts that annual remittances, which grew threefold from 1998 to 2008, to 3.78 billion dollars a year, will shrink by eight to 10 percent this year as a result of the global economic crisis that originated last year in the United States.
"When they get sick, I have to run all over the place with them, looking for a doctor," says Zoila. She and her grandson and granddaughter live in El Carmen, in the central province of Cuscatlán.
"Flor says that when she finishes paying off the money she was loaned so that she could travel to the United States, she'll come back," Zoila says hopefully.
The break-up of families as a result of migration is not only an issue in El Salvador, but is a major problem in all countries where large numbers of people flee poverty and hard conditions at home in search of better livelihoods for themselves and their families.
The "Human Development Report 2009; Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development", released this month by the U.N. Development Programme says that "Despite these financial rewards, separation is typically a painful decision incurring high emotional costs for both the mover and those left behind."
"Offsetting the potential gains in consumption, schooling and health, children at home can be adversely affected emotionally by the process of migration," says the report, which points out that one out of five Paraguayan mothers living in Argentina, for example, has young children back home in Paraguay.
The report, which focuses on migration, notes that studies have found that the impacts depend on the age of children when the separation occurs - indicating that in the first years of life the effects may be greater - on "the familiarity and attitude of the adult in whose care the child is left, and on whether the separation is permanent or temporary."
Luis Enrique Salazar, director of the Salvadoran Institute for the Integral Development of Children and Adolescents (ISNA), says children's quality of life declines when the mother or father is gone, and much more so when both have migrated. And even in cases in which grandmothers and grandfathers take on the role of parents, "they are not always well-equipped to keep youngsters in line."
"Children and young people are in the process of being shaped, and they need the presence of an authoritative adult figure, who can help them build plans for the future," Salazar told IPS.
He said the experience gained by ISNA working with children in its centres around the country has shown that youngsters who are separated from their mothers and/or fathers "suffer a lack of nurturing and emotional support, which affects their physical and emotional development."
The need to recuperate that family bond is so strong, says Salazar, that parents often expose their children to the dangers of travelling as undocumented migrants to the countries where they live, putting them at risk of abuse or even death.
Half of the 3,000 children cared for by the ISNA centres have been deported back to El Salvador after attempting to cross into the United States without a visa.
Measures to promote family reunification are one solution to combating family breakdown caused by migration. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, says "Families whose members live in different countries should be allowed to move between those countries so that parents and children can stay in contact, or get back together as a family," Salazar pointed out.
Reuniting with his mother, who lives in Los Angeles, California, is the dream of 15-year-old Alex (not his real name). His mother migrated to the United States last year, and he and his siblings were left in the care of his 65-year-old grandmother, Esther Godoy.
"The idea is to be together again as a family, and not separated anymore," says Alex, who lives in Ayutuxtepeque, a slum on the northern outskirts of San Salvador. "She's coming in November, and our plan is for her to stay, or for all of us to go with her," he tells IPS.
Flor also has plans to come back, from Houston, says Zoila. That is good news, on one hand, she says, because the children would be with their mother. But it will also cause difficulties.
"She's coming back to a country that's in bad shape, there's no work here, and there's a lot of violence, and I'm worried that she won't be able to give them all the things that she has been able to provide them with, from there," she says. (END/2009)
SAN SALVADOR, Oct 18 (IPS) - Zoila, 54, is raising her two grandchildren, who were left behind when her daughter headed to the United States in search of a better income. There are many women like her acting as surrogate mothers to their grandchildren in El Salvador, one of the Latin American countries with the largest proportion of its population living and working abroad.The breakdown of family ties caused by the migration of one or both parents has already been felt by several generations. According to official figures, 2.5 million Salvadorans are living abroad, more than 80 percent of them in the United States. But independent sources put the number of migrants even higher.
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