The Migration of Women Domestic Workers from Sri Lanka: Protecting the Rights of Children Left Behind

Cornell University
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Cornell International Law Journal, 2015, 48 pp. 581 - 638
Issue Date:
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(2015) Jayasuriya & Opeskin - MDWs and Children Left Behind in Sri Lanka.pdfAccepted Manuscript Version258.15 kB
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Remittances that flow from low-skilled labor migration are critical to many developing countries, yet these economic benefits can come at a high price. Roughly half of all migrant workers are women, many of whom are mothers who migrate without their families to perform domestic work abroad. This Article examines the impact of the large-scale migration of women from the Global South on the rights and well-being of the “children left behind.” Sri Lanka is used as a case study because it is numerically significant in its own right (one million Sri Lankan children are directly affected by this migration phenomenon) and provides insights into the challenges posed by these labor migration streams. The possible harms experienced by children left behind include disruption to family relations, diversion from education as children are pressured into domestic roles formerly discharged by the absent parent, psychosocial effects of loneliness and abandonment, and heightened risk of child labor or abuse from alternative carers. This Article analyzes how legal and regulatory frameworks can be leveraged to support the children left behind and minimize their exposure to potential harms. International law provides a dense network of norms that speak to the protection of children left behind, but the system often fails to achieve this goal because of the unwillingness of States to ratify relevant treaties or to implement them when they have been ratified. On the other hand, several domestic laws, policies, and practices offer examples of best practices that address key concerns. Some of these practices are directed to sending States, and others to receiving States, but most aim to improve the prospects of communication, visitation, or permanent reunion that allow children to maintain familial ties that are so essential to their healthy development, despite the migration of their family members
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