Monday, 15 October 2018

Child migrants are not always out of education

Dorte Thorsen and Mélanie Jacquemin

Child protection programmes evolve around the idea that education and migration for work are incompatible but the profiles of adolescent migrants are diverse and include multiple forms of education. Research in Senegal under the auspice of MOVIDA’s “terrain partagé” programme moves outside the narrow conceptualisation of education as formal schooling to explore how adolescents see the linkages between migration and education, and how migration exacerbates gender differences and affects their education in practice.

1. Migration to continue education
Children rarely drop out of school because they or their parents have decided they should migrate for work. Common reasons to drop out are school malfunctioning, parents' inability to pay school-related expenses or disillusionment with the effect of school certificates in the labour market. This is increasingly evident at senior secondary level when schooling becomes notably more expensive. Nonetheless, adolescents cherish schooling, and education in a broader sense, and they counter the lack of opportunity in rural areas by leaving for the city.

Many migrate to towns and cities with the objective of continuing education; some aim to save up to return to their previous school once they have the resources, others seek to raise resources to enroll in vocational training. Urban relatives frequently invite adolescents to work for them by promising to pay fees for vocational training instead of a wage. Even when adolescent migrants do not pursue education in the formal sense, their occupational trajectory is often structured by an element of learning that allows them to move from unskilled work to lowly skilled, urban work.

2. Secondary school students’ holiday migration to work
Migration to work during the long school holidays is becoming gradually more common across West Africa, as school enrollment and retention expands into rural areas and includes boys and girls of poorer families. The practice is also common in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. Demographic monitoring data in the Sereer region of Senegal suggests that seasonal labour migration among adolescent girls has declined over the past twenty years and that there has also been a temporal shift. Nowadays the majority of girls who migrate from the region to work as domestic workers in Dakar no longer do so during the dry season but during the school holidays in the wet season to save up to finance their schooling.

A focus group discussion in Ziguinchor, stimulated by mapping student migrants’ migration trajectories, revealed that rural children from the Casamance regions begin to migrate to work during their holidays from the age of 10-13 years. Boys start by doing agricultural or horticultural work in central Senegal and the Senegal River Valley, and then move on to the main cities (Dakar, Thies) to work as street vendors and porters around markets. Those who come to Ziguinchor are attracted by information about the ease with which they can find work compared to in Dakar where the competition for income is much higher. The costs of transportation, food and accommodation are also cheaper outside Dakar. For female student migrants however, the choice is not as free. Rural girls are almost uniquely migrating towards Dakar to engage in domestic work, unless they come from the lower Casamance region or Kolda, in which case they may come to Ziguinchor. In addition to domestic work, female student migrants work in small restaurants or as petty traders in the bus station.

In the minds of these young migrants, holiday migration to work recaps their inferior socio-economic position in that they cannot attend Summer programmes to support their academic achievement, like children of better-off families. The paltry wages that student migrants of both genders can make from the work they can find during the holidays, and the harsh working conditions and the abuse metered out by some employers, add to their frustration but they nevertheless cling to the idea that these efforts gradually lead them towards their future plans to complete schooling, support their parents and achieve a better social and professional status.

3. Adolescent out-of-school migrants: towards other forms of education
Among the adolescent migrants in Ziguinchor, who are out of formal schooling or never were enrolled, quite a few engage in vocational training as tailor apprentices and drivers. The boys also mention typical male occupations such as bricklayer, mechanic and metal welding. Very often apprenticeships are negotiated by close relatives but not all apprentices know what to expect or are sure about the trade. The trajectories of adolescent boys and girls highlight gender and class differences in opportunity and ability to concentrate on their acquisition of a skilled trade. Many of the girls work only part-time in their apprenticeship (a few hours per day in the afternoon), because they are also working part-time as domestic workers, either in paid employment or unpaid for the relative or guardian with whom they live.

Although social norms about gender, work, reproduction and status are changing, and girls are now pursuing different forms of education, the norms about gender and age appropriate work determine their trajectories. Domestic work remains a female domain. The work shouldered by girls of poorer families may emancipate the daughters (and sometimes also the sons) of the families who employ or accommodate migrant domestic workers. Thus, while migration may open the opportunity for learning a trade, the geographical and social distance from their family of origin produced by migration does not guarantee girls the possibility of spending most of their time and energy in a training activity.

The accounts offered by migrant boys of the advice they received before their departure reveal that they were told to focus on an activity and not get diverted by friendships not connected to this work or learning, etc. This guidance highlights the greater social acceptance of migrant boys needing time for training during their migration experience. As this allows them to move away from direct parental demands on their labour (especially for work in the countryside), migration often affords boys space and time to acquire new, specialised skills.

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