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The November 14, 2012, Technology Salon NYC focused on ways that ICTs can support work with children who migrate. Our lead discussants were:  Sarah Engebretsen and Kate Barker from Population Council, and Brian Root and Enrique Piracés from Human Rights Watch.

This post summarizes discussions that surfaced around the Population Council’s upcoming Girls on the Move report, which looks at adolescent girls’ (ages 10-19) internal and regional migration in ‘developing’ countries, including opportunity and risk. (In a second blog post I will cover Human Rights Watch’s points and resulting discussions.)

The Girls on the Move report (to be released in February 2013) will synthesize current evidence, incorporate results of specially commissioned research, illustrate experiences of migrant girls, provide examples of promising policies and programs, and offer concrete action-oriented recommendations.

1) How are migrant girls using ICTs?

While the report’s focus is not technology, the research team notes that there is some evidence showing that adolescent girls are using ICTs for:

  • Extending social networks. In China and Southeast Asia, migrant girls are building and accessing personal networks through mobiles and texting. This is especially pronounced among girls who work long hours in tedious jobs in factories, and who do not have much time with family and friends. Text messaging helps them maintain connections with existing social networks. It also gives them space for flirtation, which may not be something they can do in their former rural context because of cultural norms that look down on flirtatious behavior.
  • Finding new jobs. Both boys and girls use mobiles and text messaging for exchanging quick news about job openings. This suggests there could be an opening for program interventions that would connect to migrant children through texting, and that might supply information on community resources, for example, where to go in cases of threat or emergency—that might then propagate across migrant virtual networks.
  • Sending remittances. Based on research with adolescent girls and drawing from examples of adult migrants, it seems likely that a vast majority of migrant girls save money and send it to their families. Evidence on how girl migrants are using remittances is limited, but a survey conducted in Kenya found that 90% of adult migrants had sent money home to families in other parts of Kenya via mobile phone in the 30 days before the survey. There is more research needed on adolescent girls’ remittance patterns. Research is also lacking on adolescent girls’ access to and use of mobile phones and on whether mobile phones are owned or borrowed from another person who is the handset owner. Remittances, however, as one participant pointed out, are obviously only sent by mobile in countries with functioning mobile money systems.
  • Keeping in touch with family back home. In Western Kenya, migrant brides who are very isolated placed great importance on mobiles to stay in touch with family and friends back home. Facebook is very popular in some countries for keeping in touch with families and friends back home. In Johannesburg and Somalia, for example, one participant said “Facebook is huge.” Migrating adolescent girls and domestic working girls in Burkina Faso, however, do not have Internet access at all, via mobiles or otherwise.

2) Areas where ICTs could support work on child protection and migration

  • Child Protection Systems There is a general global move towards developing child protection systems that work for different kinds of vulnerable children. These efforts are important in the transit phase and right upon arrival as these phases are particularly risky for children who migrate. ICTs can play a role in managing information that is part of these systems. Ways to connect community child protection systems into district and national systems need more investigation.
  • Reporting abuse and getting help One example of ways that ICTs are supporting child protection in India and several other countries is Child Help Lines. ChildLine India received almost 23 million calls as of March 2012, with 62% of callers between the ages of 11 and 18. The helplines provide vulnerable groups of children and youth with referrals to local services, and in the best cases they are public-private partnerships that link with national and state governments. Of note is that boys call in more often than girls, and this raises questions about girls’ access to phones to actually make a call to obtain support. It also points to the need for differentiated strategies to reach both boys and girls.

3) Technology and exclusion

  • Social exclusion and access is a specific challenge due to the pronounced social exclusion of many migrant girls, particularly those who are married or working in socially isolated jobs such as child domestic workers. Girls in these situations may not have any access to technology at all, including to mobile phones.  Girls and women especially tend to have less access than men; they are often not the owners of devices. There is a research gap here, as no one actually knows how many migrating adolescent girls access mobiles and how many can borrow a phone for use. It is not clear if girls have their own phones, or if they are using an employer’s or a friend’s phone or a public call box. This would be a key factor in terms of working with adolescent girls and understanding risk and designing programs.
  • Technology should build on – not be seen as a replacement for – social networks. Girls access to social capital is a huge underlying topic. There is normally a rupture in social networks when girls move. They become socially isolated and this puts them at great risk. Domestic girl workers leave home and become more vulnerable to exploitation —  they have no friends or family around them, and they may not be able to access communication technologies. For this reason it is critical to understand that technology cannot replace social networks. A social network is needed first, and then ICTs can allow girls to remain in touch with those in their network. It is very important to think about understanding and/or building social networks before pushing the idea of technology or incorporating technologies.

4) ICTs and potential risk to child migrants

  • SMS, anonymity and privacy. According to a study one participant was involved in, some children and youth report feeling that they can speak up more freely by SMS since they can text privately even in close quarters. Others noted that some organizations are incorporating online counseling services for similar reasons. A study in Nigeria is ongoing regarding this same topic, and in Southeast Asia it has been shown that girls often use text messages to flirt using an alternate identity.
  • Retaliation. Concerns were raised regarding the possibility for retaliation if a child reports abuse or uses a mobile for flirting and the phone is confiscated.  Practices of self-protection and message deleting are not very well implemented in most cases. A participant noted that some of the low-end phones in Tanzania and Kenya periodically delete outgoing messages and only keep 15 messages on the phone at a time. This can help somewhat, though it is not a feature that is particularly aimed at protection and privacy, rather, it is more a function of low memory space. Safer Mobile is one initiative that looks at risk and privacy; however, like most efforts looking at risk, it is focused on political conflict and human rights situations, not at privacy and protection for child migrants or other types of abuse reporting that children may be involved in.

5) Research gaps and challenges

  • Migration contexts. It was emphasized that migration during an emergency situation is very different from a voluntary migration, or seasonal migration. Work is being done around communication with disaster or emergency affected populations via the Communication with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network, but this theme does not seem to be one of widespread discussion among US-based NGOs and humanitarian organizations.
  • Migrants are not necessarily disadvantaged however a bias exists in that researchers tend to look for disadvantage or those who are disadvantaged. They often ask questions that are biased towards showing that migrants are disadvantaged, but this is not always the case. Sometimes migrating children are the most advantaged. In some contexts migrating requires family support and funds to migrate, and those with the least amount of resources may not be able to move. In some cases migrant children have a huge, strong family structure. In others, children are escaping early marriage, their parents’ passing away or other difficult situations.
  • Integrated information and data crossing. One issue with research around migrants is that most looks solely at migrants and does not cross migration with other information. Many girls migrate with the idea that they will be able to get an education, for example, but there is not a lot of information on whether migrating girls have more or less access to education. The literature tends to focus on girls in the worst situations. In addition, although there are 4 times as many internal migrants as there are international migrants, focus tends to be on international migration.

In a second post, I will cover Human Rights Watch’s work on using data visualization to advocate for the rights of immigrants in the US.

Many thanks to our lead discussants from the Population Council and to the Women’s Refugee Commission and the International Rescue Committee for hosting! The next Technology Salon NYC will be coming up in January 2013. Stay tuned for more information and if you’d like to receive notifications about future salons, sign up for the mailing list!

Also, if you have research or examples of how child and youth migrants are using ICTs before, during or after their journey, or information on how organizations are using ICTs to support the process, please let me know.

Related posts and resources:

How can ICTs support and protect children who migrate?

New communication tools and disaster affected communities

Empowering communities with technology tools to protect children

Children on the Move website

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Over the next year, I’ll be working on some research supported by Oak Foundation* that will look at the intersection of ICTs and children who migrate, a.k.a. ‘Children on the Move.’ As part of the research, we will be conducting a Twitter chat on Tuesday, August 14, at 9h EST and an ongoing online discussion hosted by New Tactics from October 17 through 23.

I hope interested folks will join to share experiences, good practice, challenges, thoughts and ideas on the intersection of ICTs and Children on the Move.

Background

Globally, some 214 million persons are international migrants. In addition, there are an estimated 740 million internal migrants according to the Global Movement for Children. Youth make up a large share of migrants from and in developing countries. Shifts in demographic factors, economic disparity, violent conflict and state failure, natural disasters, resource and environmental pressures, especially climate change, and lack of opportunities for education or employment mean that this number is likely to increase. About one-third of migrants from developing countries are between the ages of 12 and 25, including millions of children under the age of 18. (Stats from here.) “Yet, in debates on both child protection and migration, children who move are largely invisible. As a result, policy responses to support these vulnerable children are fragmented and inconsistent.”

Drawing from the African Movement of Working Children and Youth’s report “Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made?” Sept 2008

‘Children on the Move’

Children migrate and move for a host of reasons. They may move on their own will to seek improved opportunities. They may be escaping violence and abuse in the home or at school or running away from an arranged marriage or other cultural practice. They may move due to a lack of opportunity, reduced resources, conflict, or disaster. They may want to get away from life in a refugee camp, or flee other kinds of hardship. They might migrate together with parents or other adults, or they may go alone or with others their age. The migration decision may be made by children themselves, or they may be encouraged by their parents.

In the past, the phenomenon of child mobility has not been seen in its full scope. Children who migrated were often automatically lumped in with those who were trafficked against their will. Programs to support children on the move have not always addressed the variety of motivations and situations. This lack of understanding of the myriad of reasons for children’s mobility has hindered efforts to support and protect them in their different scenarios. More recently efforts have been made to better understand children’s mobility, for example this fascinating 2008-2010 regional study project, supported by a broad platform of child protection agencies, documented and analyzed the many forms taken by the mobility of children and youths in West and Central Africa.

The term ‘Children on the Move‘ has been suggested to describe this group of children under the age of 18 who have aims, motivations and different life circumstances. This is a group which transcends categories. These children may be in a ‘pre-mobility, mobility or post-mobility’ situation (either having arrived to a destination or having returned home). They may also be ‘children left behind’ by their parents or guardians, who, without abandoning them, have emigrated for work within their country of residence or abroad. They may be stateless children, who also suffer the risks and vulnerabilities of mobility.

Risks Children on the Move face

When children move against their will, and /or in absence of protection services and actors, they become highly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, exploitation and other abuses. This vulnerability is present before they move, during their trip, once they reach a new destination or even after they return home, and therefore support and protection need to be considered from the time they are thinking about moving (or others are thinking about moving them), through the actual migration or ‘move’, upon their arrival, and in the case of their return. In addition, some children may be involved in a series of migrations or they may migrate seasonally. “During movement, a child can float from one sub category to the other. For example, an internally displaced child can be recruited by armed forces or moved across borders for the purpose of exploitation. The risks and opportunities differ per trajectory and conditions of movement,” according to the CoM website.

Captured from “Best practices in the fight against early exodus and child trafficking” as printed in the African Movement of Working Children and Youth’s “Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made?” report, Sept 2008.

Children who migrate often face discrimination and marginalization due to beliefs and policies that treat migration as a problem and children who migrate as criminals, and therefore a great deal of work needs to be done to change perceptions and increase societal awareness around the situation of children on the move. Protecting children and reducing their risk of exploitation is a mandate, regardless of the reasons for which they move or migrate.

A systemic approach to protection

In order to improve support for and protection of children on the move, it’s important to look at the situation holistically and systemically and to include the aforementioned different phases of mobility. In addition, several areas need consideration, including children’s own needs and rights; children’s self-protection; community-based protection; government responsibilities and social services; advocacy and public policy and so on. Duty bearers and donors need to improve coordination across silos and borders in order to get better at information exchange, research and data analysis; the creation of prevention and awareness strategies and programs; monitoring actions during all stages; and feedback mechanisms and accountability. (See the proceedings from the CoM Conference for more details.)

How can ICTs help?

Alongside the growth in children’s mobility, access to new technologies, specifically the mobile phone, has exploded. Yet most often, when child protection and ICTs are mentioned in the same sentence, it is with regard to cyber security and protecting children from the Internet or potential on-line predators.

ICTs are playing a huge role in connecting diaspora with those ‘back home.’  The question arises: How are or how could ICTs be enhancing child protection initiatives and supporting children on the move.

The positive and empowering role of ICTs to support children’s self-protection, improve information and communication via new technology tools and enhance systemic approaches to risk reduction has not been fully developed with regard to child protection in its broader sense, or with regard to child mobility and child protection.

The research 

The research will aim to compile a ‘State of the Practice’ report that will include examples and case studies of current ICT use by, with, among and for CoM; applicable cases and lessons learned from other sectors; gaps, challenges, areas where ICTs may pose new or additional risk; and remaining questions and challenges for future exploration and collaboration.

Certainly new questions, frameworks and areas to explore will arise along the way, but at present, questions include:

  • What needs do children have in different categories and stages of mobility and how are these being (or how could they be) enhanced via better use of new ICTs?
  • Which new technologies are already accessible and being used by various stakeholders (e.g. children, parents and caretakers, intermediaries, broader communities, local child protection committees and ‘safe houses’, local institutions, social workers, experts, civil servants, governments, national and international NGOs, local and national law enforcement agencies), especially children, adolescents and youth; during pre-mobility, mobility and post-mobility, and upon return, endogenous or institutional, and for what purpose or to what end?
  • What information and communication systems are currently in use at child and family, community, district, national, transnational /regional and global levels for supporting or protecting children on the move and can these systems be improved, promoted or better accessed using new ICTs such as mobile phones?
  • Are there existing scalable, replicable or adaptable examples of the use of ICTs in this area we can learn from? What were the successes, challenges, failures and lessons/good practices?
  • Can new ICTs support communication for development (C4D) approaches and models to help children on the move protect themselves, inform them of available support, and/or change broader societal attitudes toward migrating children to more positive and supportive ones?
  • What can we learn from how ICTs are being used in other areas (health, human rights monitoring, data gathering / tracking, early warning systems, disasters and emergencies)? Which of these might lend themselves to use with, for, among and by children on the move? Are there relevant evaluations or case studies we can look at and learn from?
  • What are the specific challenges and risks in terms of children on the move that need special attention and exploration when designing programs or eco-systems that integrate ICTs? Security? Privacy? Connectivity? Cost? Context? Sustainability? Feasibility?
  • Where do we take it from here (what needs to happen next)?

Please join us for the Twitter chat on August 14 at 9 a.m. EST.  We’ll be using the hashtag #CoMandICT for the discussion and to keep track of future Twitter conversations on this topic. Stay tuned here at Wait… What? or contact me @meowtree or by email for more information.

Please also consider joining the broader discussion on “Empowering Communities with Technology Tools to Protect Children” the week of October 17-23 hosted by our friends over at New Tactics.

Some related resources:

The excellent 2008 report by the African Movement of Working Children and Youth: Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made? 

The AMWCY’s 2009 report “From the gong gong to ICTs

The fascinating study by a consortium of child protection groups on Child Mobility in West and Central Africa.

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*This work is supported through a grant from Oak Foundation to Plan International USA.

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