The social costs of migration for Filipino workers

Two days ago Coca Cola released a heart-breaking commercial with a social responsibility spin. They profile three Filipino migrant workers in Europe who have not seen their families in many years. The company surprises them with tickets back to the Philippines for Christmas. The resulting video clip is a serious tear-jerker:

What this commercial does not mention is the social costs of separating families for so long. While material life has improved for those left behind in the Philippines, there are often serious emotional, psychological, and even physical health costs.

An estimated six million Philippine children are growing up now with at least one parent absent because of migration. That the absent parent is now usually the mother has resulted in “displacement, disruptions and changes in care-giving arrangements,” Vanessa Tobin, deputy director for programs at Unicef, said at a conference on migration in Manila in September.

Adolescents seem especially hard hit. A study released this year by the non-profit Asia-Pacific Policy Center in Manila indicated that children between 13 and 16 are the most affected, with many dropping out of school, experimenting with drugs or getting pregnant.

Earlier this year, the New York Times published another article that focused on the impact of the migration of Filipina women:

If the benefits of female migration are underdocumented, so are its hidden costs. In the Philippines, migration is known as the “Filipino divorce.” And some studies have linked youth crime and drug abuse to children growing up without their mothers.

Migrant mothers know this. “I was very lucky that my children were good,” said Ms. Sagum, who in addition to the twins has three older children.

Her family still paid a steep price for the five degrees she funded for her children and the rice paddies and fish pond she bought her husband. In her 12 years gone, Ms. Sagum has missed her father’s funeral and the birth of three grandchildren. Recently, her arthritis started flaring up, the result of too many hours of hard work.

Most worrying is that while all five children excelled and got professional degrees, only three have jobs. One of her twins, who has a management diploma but no work, recently asked if she could join her mother in Paris. “I told her, ‘Why do you want to come to Paris? To work like a maid?”’ Ms. Sagum said. “I said no.”

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