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Children who have been trafficked, separated by conflict, who are living on the streets or/and in alternative care suffer devastating and long-term consequences.
Their reintegration with a family is critical to their well-being. Different initiatives are currently being made to bring these children home. Over the last three years we have explored the experience and process of reintegration of separated boys and girls in a variety of contexts, speaking to children, their families and other stakeholders. We have interviewed 83 children in three different countries.
In Moldova we talked to children in institutional care, in Mexico to children living in small-scale residential care after having lived on the streets and in Nepal to child domestic workers. We explored with the children their experiences before and after leaving home, their expectations in being reintegrated with their families and, after returning home, what were the good and the bad things, according to them, about returning home.
“The teachers from the boarding school were bad; they used to hit us on the head with a ladle. I like living at home.” Boy, Moldova
The children who took part in this research in Moldova had been living in large-scale residential facilities that were being closed down as part of the country’s reform process. Moldova leads the region in the proportion of its children living in residential care: 2.2 per cent of boys and girls live without parental care, with over 6,000 in residential care and more than 10,000 in family-based care (out of a population of approximately 750,000). Loss of parental care is caused by a complex array of underlying and immediate factors, which are detailed in the report.
“[Sometimes] you think a family has to be doing really well before a boy can go back, but then you understand that the family can work on improvements when the boy is at home.” JUCONI staff member, Mexico
For the boys that participated in the study in Mexico experiences of violence, drug-taking, family separation and involvement with the police were all too common. All of the boys came from households characterised by high levels of poverty, social exclusion and violence. During the time of teh study they were living a temporary residential facility run by JUCONI for children living on the street. This model used for their return to their families was a therapeutic approach which involves intensive support to children and families to break cycles of inter-generational violence.
“I feel very bad being a domestic worker as I am deprived of family love and care.” Girl, Nepal
The majority of the children that participated in the study in Nepal are girls who typically come from rural areas, usually far from Kathmandu; most of them from marginalised ethnic groups. There are an estimated 1.8 million child labourers in Nepal, 361,814 of whom are child domestic workers. Whilst child domestic work (for children under 16 years) falls under the ‘worst forms of child labour’, as defined by Nepali legislation and therefore illegal within Nepal, in practice the law is applicable only at the institutional level (where there are more than 10 child employees, e.g. for factories or companies). The work to reintegrate the children includes education, income generation and psycho-social support for reintegration, alongside work with employers and parents to encourage withdrawal from domestic work.
Despite the differences in contexts and reintegration approaches, we found many similarities. Most children and families who live apart from each other want to live together again. Children told us that they need to feel safe, loved and wanted in order for reintegration to work. Whether or not a child wants or is able to return home depends in large part on whether the original causes of their separation have been addressed. Reintegration needs to be tailored to the context and to the specific needs and circumstances of the child. Reintegration is a process that requires preparation, planning, time and holistic, coordinated support.
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