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Pathfinders, HKU call for better linkages to protect migrants’ children

12 May 2023


Panel speakers Dr Lucy Jordan, Xyza Bacani and Catherine Gurtin

The importance of developing new strategies to ensure all children affected by migration are protected was the focus of a panel discussion yesterday, May 11, to launch Children at the Heart of Migration, a new report published by PathFinders in collaboration with The University of Hong Kong (HKU).

The speakers included Dr. Lucy Jordan, associate professor at HKU’s Department of Social Work and Social Administration; award-winning photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani, who following her mother’s example, became a migrant domestic herself; and PathFinders' CEO Catherine Gurtin.

The talk was held as Hong Kong marked the 50th  year since migrant domestic workers were allowed into the city.


Today, there are around 340,000 MDWs in Hong Kong and the government expects the number to rise to 600,000 by 2047 because of the need to care for the city’s rapidly ageing population.

More than 90% of the MDWs are women of childbearing age, and many are mothers who left their own children behind in hopes of providing them with a better future.

The discussion focused on how government and other stakeholders could work together to come up with policies that adequately reflect the potential impact of migration on children - whether born in the country of destination, or left behind.

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This becomes more urgent as Hong Kong looks overseas to recruit more women to work as caregivers for the city’s elderly residents.

Gurtin said that over the last 15 years that PathFinders has been in existence, it has seen many MDWs falling prey to love scams, sexual abuse, and unplanned pregnancies while living and working in Hong Kong.

With the population of MDWs set to almost double over the next 20 years, we need to act now to prevent an emerging and potential crisis for migrant children, Gurtin said.

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PathFinders wants to use its voice in raising awareness and advocate for stronger protections for the children left behind, she added.

Dr Jordan also expressed concern for the children of migrant parents. She said research has shown that there is a potential “crisis of care” across Southeast Asia as an increasing number of parents migrate overseas for work, leaving their children behind. 

But she said very little is known about the long-term costs and benefits of migration for these children.


Through the report she said HKU and PathFinders hope to start a conversation that makes a case for developing effective policies that will help children and family members affected by migration, both in the sending and receiving destinations.

Sharing her personal experiences, Bacani said, "I was a child left-behind by my migrant mother when I was eight. I grew up without her so I know how challenging and painful it was to be away from my own mother. Migration has touched our family’s lives in so many ways.

She added that her story was not unique as it was a story shared by millions of children left behind by a migrant parent.

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The panel called on stakeholders to jointly put in place several measures to help cushion the blow on children of migrant workers.

These include providing comprehensive training to migrant workers in their home countries, which should focus on crisis prevention and migration goals. In addition, migrating mothers should be made to undergo extra training on child guardianship, family togetherness and tips on how to look after their children while abroad.

Once they get to their work sites, migrant mothers should also get support from their fellow MDWs and non-government organizations in terms of access to information on general and reproductive health, as well as child safety and positive parenting.

Community networks should also be strengthened in the destination countries so migrant parents will get help in preventing crisis situations and to engage them in talks on child development.

The panel also advocated conducting further research on how migration could impact child protection and health development in both origin and destination places, in particular, those in the Philippines and Indonesia on one side and Hong Kong on the other.


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