Child Health and Migrant Parents in Southeast Asia (CHAMPSEA)

Migration is often part of an economically beneficial livelihood strategy for transnational families. For many of the sending countries in South-east Asia, a growing proportion of transnational migrants are women – around 70% for the Philippines and Indonesia, and under 20% for Thailand and Vietnam. Many of these female migrants are married and an unknown number leave their children behind. Although most send remittances to left-behind kin, visits home tend to be infrequent with migrants going away for two or more years at a time. With demand from wealthy countries for domestic workers, nurses and other carers increasing as their populations age, solving care problems in rich countries may be creating a crisis of care in less developed countries. For instance, the physical and mental health of young children may be adversely affected by an absent parent, perhaps especially so when the migrant is the child’s mother.

Most past research has focused on the health of migrants themselves, including their role as vectors for disease spread. Complex transnational migration flows assume a structural role in Asian economies and societies, but little is known about the multi-dimensional impacts on left-behind families. While a recent WHO report concentrates on the ‘brain drain’ of health professionals in its section on ‘health implications for those left behind ’, it is not yet known whether left-behind children themselves are more vulnerable to poor health outcomes, or in what way, when and under what circumstances they benefit and/or suffer from the absence of parents. CHAMPSEA will fill this significant gap in existing knowledge.

No official data exist on the numbers of children under 12 with one or both parents absent due to migration. The extent of the ‘care crisis’ is unknown but could be considerable. Anecdotal evidence suggests that growing numbers of female transnational migrants from the region leave children behind. State-sponsored welfare systems in sending countries are generally underdeveloped, with extended kinship networks traditionally functioning as support systems. CHAMPSEA will be the first to examine the reconfiguration of these support systems after parental migration and the impact on child health/well-being in South-east Asia, analyzing the impact of parental absence on the health/well-being of left-behind children.

Awarding Body:
The Wellcome Trust, UK

Investigator(s) and Collaborator(s):
Brenda Yeoh and Elspeth Graham (joint principal investigators)
Paul Boyle, Chee Heng Leng, Wong Mee Lian (co-investigators)
Sukamdi, Maruja Asis, Aree Jampaklay, Dang N. Anh (country representatives)
Ian Wilson (statistical advice and expertise)
Andiara Schwingel and Lucy Jordan (postdoctoral fellows)
Theodora Lam (research assistant)


Yeoh, B.S.A., M. Platt, C.Y. Khoo, T. Lam and G. Baey, Indonesian domestic workers and the (un)making of transnational livelihoods and provisional futures. Social and Cultural Geography, (2016, online first).

Yeoh, B.S.A., Migration and gender politics in Southeast Asia. Migration. Mobility, & Displacement, 2, no. 1 (2016): 74-88.

C.F.T. Lam, M. Ee, L.A. Hoang, and Yeoh, B.S.A., 2013. Securing a Better Living Environment for Left-Behind Children: Implications and Challenges for PoliciesAsian and Pacific Migration Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 421-446.

Graham, E., L. Jordan and B.S.A. Yeoh, 2015. Parental migration and the mental health of those who stay behind to care for children in South-East Asia. Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 132 pp. 225-235

Graham, E., L.P. Jordan, B.S.A. Yeoh, C.F.T., Lam, M. Asis, and Sukamdi, 2011. Transnational families and the family nexus: Perspectives of Indonesian and Filipino children left behind by migrant parent(s)Environment and Planning A, Vol. 44, No. 4, pp. 793 815.

Graham, E. and Yeoh, B.S.A., 2013. Introduction: Child Health and Migrant Parents in South-east Asia: Risk and Resilience among Primary School-Aged ChildrenAsian and Pacific Migration Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 297-314.

Hoang, L.A. and B.S.A. Yeoh, 2015. Children’s Agency and its Contradictions in the Context of Transnational Labour Migration from Vietnam. Global Networks, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 180-197

Hoang, L.A. and B.S.A. Yeoh, 2011. Breadwinning wives and ‘left behind’ husbands: men and masculinities in the Vietnamese transnational family. Gender and Society, Vol. 25, No. 6, pp. 717-739.

Hoang, L.A., T. Lam, B.S.A. Yeoh and E. Graham, 2015. Transnational Migration, Changing Care Arrangements and Left-behind Children’s Responses in South-east Asia. Children’s Geographies, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 263-277

Hoang, L.A., B.S.A. Yeoh, and A.M. Wattie, 2012. Transnational labour migration and the politics of care in the Southeast Asian family. GeoForum, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 733 740.

Hoang, L.A. and B.S.A. Yeoh, 2012. Sustaining Families across Transnational Space: Vietnamese Migrant Parents and their Left-Behind ChildrenAsian Studies Review. Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 307 – 325.

Toyota, M., B.S.A. Yeoh and L. Nguyen, 2007. Editorial Introduction: Bringing the ‘Left Behind’ Back into View in Asia: a Framework for Understanding the Migration Left Behind NexusPopulation, Space and Place, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp.157-161.