Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Children of Romanian Migrants Suffer Neglect

Economic migrants enrich the country to the tune of millions of euro a year, but in the meantime their children are going astray.
By Floriana Scanteie

At first sight, 16-year-old Razvan seems a happy child. He has almost everything he needs when it comes to fashionable clothes or the latest gadgets. A slim boy with long, blond hair, he is very proud of his mobile phone with its fancy features and of the music player he listens to all day long.

But tears stream from his eyes when he talks of the father that he has seen only once in the last year. “He has been working in Spain in the construction industry for six years and, of course, he earns a lot of money,” said Razvan. “But I miss him a lot, as I really need somebody to talk and to advise me.”

Razvan’s plight is common in Romania, where ten of thousands of children live without at least one of their parents, away in Western Europe where they’re working to support their families back home.

Migrant workers send back some 3.5 billion US dollars a year - a vital contribution in one of Eastern Europe’s poorest countries.

But while the money is welcome, the absence of so many adults creates numerous social problems with few easy remedies.

Romania's poverty has led to an unprecedented number of people looking for work abroad over the past few years.

The International Organisation for Migration recently estimated that some two million Romanians are now working in foreign countries.

A recent poll indicated that around 40 per cent of those who had left were between 30 and 49. Most were from the countryside and had families.

The migrants’ preferred destinations are Spain, Italy and Germany, where Romanians find jobs in construction and agriculture - sectors that at home have been hard hit by unemployment.

Those working abroad usually leave their children in the care of close relatives or neighbours. It is supposed to be only a temporary arrangement but in many cases the lack of parental care continues for years, influencing the development of many children.

“They start to feel abandoned, become sad and isolate themselves from their family and friends,” said a doctor of psychology, Mihai Anitei.

“The young ones are more influenced by the absence of the mother, while the father’s absence imbues them with feelings of insecurity and has negative results on their school performance.

“They can hook up with all kinds of gangs and get into trouble. These are alternative ways of getting attention. Gullibly, many think that drugs, alcohol and gambling may help them.”

Tiberiu Laza, a psychologist from Bucharest, agrees. “No relative can fully take responsibility of a child when the parents are away,” he said.

“Children need to be together with their parents, and if this isn’t happening, they express their anger in relationships with other people.”

Some Romanians working abroad try to bring their families with them, normally after a couple of years of hard work, once they get enough money.

Anitei says the children usually benefit from this, “Although there can be many difficulties related to integration into a different society, children can overcome them. They may confront new social experiences, different cultures and a foreign language, but nothing is more important than a feeling of security.”

Brandusa Stamata, of the School Inspectorate for Education in Bucharest, said child migration is undoubtedly becoming more widespread, as the education authorities were increasingly being asked to provide reports on schoolchildren preparing to join their parents overseas.

“There have been over 1,000 demands for us to issue school papers in Bucharest alone from the beginning of this year,” said Stamata, “which means many pupils are planning to leave the country.”

Floriana Scanteie is a freelance journalist in Bucharest.