Sufferings of migrants' spouses go unnoticed | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 28, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:00 AM, February 28, 2019

Sufferings of migrants' spouses go unnoticed

Says study on social costs of migration

Labour migration is mostly seen as means of economic progress, but it has social costs, especially on spouses and children who remain home. Husbands face higher level of social and psychological stress than wives when their spouses work abroad, says a new study.

In addition, spouses of migrant workers face loneliness and social stereotypes, and shoulder additional workload.

Around 89 percent left-behind wives experienced derogatory comments. They remain worried that negative statements can lead to dissolution of their marriage, the study added.

“Sufferings that migrants' spouses go through are not recognised by the society. The state also has no social protection arrangement for them,” said Prof Tasneem Siddiqui, chair of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) of Dhaka University,

She was speaking at a dissemination programme in Dhaka's Cirdap auditorium yesterday.

RMMRU conducted the study on social costs of migration with support from Swiss Development Cooperation. Sample size of the study, between 2014 and 2017, was 1,741 households -- 279 internal migrant households, 1,061 international migrant households and 401 non-migrant households.

Some 90 lakh Bangladeshis work abroad, making it a major source of foreign remittance, which is annually 15 billion dollars.


Some major challenges husbands face are loneliness, burden of additional household responsibilities, psychological stress, disagreement with wife, fear about psychological and sexual insecurity of wife abroad and inability to handle children's illness.

A majority of them, however, manage their households on their own. They also take care of medical needs of children and parents. One-fifth of them are involved in cooking.

“About 70 percent of husbands do not mind doing these chores. This, I would say, is a social transformation happening in our society,” said Tasneem Siddiqui.

To face the social perception that left-behind husbands are not “man enough”, a section of them immerse in work and spend more time with children. Some even work harder so that their wives come back sooner, she added.


The study finds that wives, who stay back, successfully shoulder many new responsibilities, traditionally performed by their husbands. However, the left-behind migrant families have become increasingly nuclear.

“Women saw it as an avenue for developing confidence,” it said. Such situation has provided wives with a certain degree of autonomy in decision-making.

They also face loneliness, movement restrictions, control by in-laws, physical and sexual insecurity and occasional nervous breakdown.


Children left behind either by their mother or father or both face loneliness and insecurity. They also do additional household works including cooking, cleaning and taking care of siblings, shopping and farm work.

The study found 93 percent children of male migrants attend school regularly, which is 86 percent when the mother is a migrant. These children try to cope with the situation by playing games, hanging out with friends and participating in religious activities and festivals.

Anisur Rahman Khan, director (migration) at Awaj Foundation, said initially children of migrant families go to school but eventually, a large portion of them end up dropping out -- something that needs to be studied.

Action Aid Country Director Farah Kabir said vulnerabilities of migrant families, especially of girl children, are higher, which might lead to more child marriages.

She suggested government programmes to create child-friendly facilities, including setting up libraries and cultural organisations in the districts from where more people migrate abroad.

Migration expert Asif Munier suggested extending psycho-social support to the migrant families and effective use of mobile technology for better communication between the migrants and family members.

Tasneem Siddiqui said the government should negotiate annual leaves for migrants to reduce social costs of migration.

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