Studies, Reviews and Research

Sri Lanka’s Missing Mothers. A working paper on the effects of Mother Migration on Children

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Save the Children

A working paper produced by Save the Children on the impact that  maternal migration has on children. The aim of this paper is to update the knowledge on the issue of mother migration and left-behind children, considering data and information that have come to light subsequent to Save the Children’s 2006 research on Sri Lanka, ‘Left behind, Left out’.

Save the Children estimates that in Sri Lanka alone, more than one million children are left behind as their mothers are forced to migrate for work. About 75% of the more than 1 million women who have migrated are married, and around 90% of them have children. Each migrant mother on average has left behind two or three children. These children often live in difficult circumstances and may be subjected to different types of abuse or exploitation. They are more likely to be ill, to have emotional issues that they act out, to be abused, and to become surrogate caregivers or spouses. Children of absent mothers are also more likely to drop out of school and are more likely to be trafficked.

The present study is aimed at identifying the reasons for mothers to migrate abroad for employment leaving their children behind, and identifying  the impacts on children left behind by the mothers who migrate. The overall objective is to promote policy level dialogue on the issue of mother migration and its negative impacts on the children, and to draw up concrete recommendations on how Save the Children can address the problem.

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Child marriage

Child protection



Sexual violence and abuse


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