Children left behind

Children during a workshop where they draw and talk about their daily lives. Most of the children in this group have one or two parents working in another part of the country or abroad.

Almost 40% of all migrant parents in Kenya have left their children behind, to be cared for by another family member. Cost of living is the main reason why many parents decide not to take their children with them when they move away for work. 

Hannah is 13 years old and lives in Nairobi, Kenya. Her mother is working in Lebanon and she lives with her father.

“I can’t express it… I miss my mum very much and I wish to have her near me,” Hannah says.

“I live well, but sometimes I need someone to help me with the household work. I have a lot of things to do there. I don’t know which work to start with, because there is a lot of work to do. When I am alone, when my mother is away, I don’t have time to study. Many times I drop school, because I finish work late nights.”

Hannah’s experience is far from unique, one absent parent often means more worries and more domestic work for girls, especially if the mother is away. Children suffer in school as well.

“When I come home from school I wash clothes, then I tend to the pigs we keep. I don’t have time to revise for my exams, because when I finish all my duties it will already be night. I spend a lot of time at night doing my homework. I wish for both of my parents to be there, especially my mother,” Joseph, 16 years old from the same school, says.

Many parents that migrate for work leave their children with an older relative, which can be complicated.

“There are challenges with being a guardian,” Elizabeth Mwikali explains. “In my case, I am elderly, and there are times a child needs her mother instead. I depend on my daughter to send me money to be able to meet the needs of her children I am looking after. I try my best to look for a little money in any way possible, but the children do not understand it’s not a given that I have money.”