Thoughtful and with sad eyes but dressed in brand clothes. This is how children of migrants look like most of the times. For several years, the authorities have been presenting a single figure showing how many Moldovan children have one or both of their parents gone abroad –100 thousand. Although estimative, this figure does not present the reality. Human rights specialists say that the real number of such children is much higher.

They Have Cars and Computers But No Parental Love

In the district of Călăraşi there live 920 children who have one parent gone abroad and about 530 who have both their parents gone abroad, according to the data of the district division for social assistance and family protection.

For instance, from the village of Vărzăreştii Noi, over 270 persons are gone abroad, the local social assistant Angela Popescu states. Most of the people are gone to Russia, Italy, Portugal, and France. “We visit them often, Angela Popescu says, they are well provided for, have everything they need, but human soul cannot be comforted only with money. Such children have the most advanced mobile phones, computers, and wear brand clothes. Some of them have cars that they drive only in the village because they do not have driver’s licenses. But sadness never disappears from their eyes.”

A girl who lives in another village of Călăraşi, Şipoteni, has not seen her mother for six years. Lenuţa says that her mother went to work in Italy when she was six. Since then, at the beginning of each school year she went to the solemn square accompanied by somebody from her relatives and looked with longing at the children who came accompanied by their parents. She has had everything all this time except one – maternal love. Lenuţa does not know what it is like to talk with your mother and ask her advice when you have a problem at school or do not know how to overcome a more delicate issue with your classmates.

Home Alone For Three Years

For the two brothers Ionel and Petruţ from the district of Rezina this is the third winter that they have spent home alone. Their parents left them in the care of a neighbor and left for Russia when they were 8 and 9. Since then, the brothers have had to manage it more by themselves, with some help from the neighbors and the local social assistant. In the winter they light the fire in the house and take care of their household as they can and think is right, so that to be like the others. Since they left, their parents have not really remembered about them; the neighbor who agreed to take care of them got sick and another woman from the village accepted to cook for them sometimes and to wash their clothes.

The school teachers told us that the brothers study well and that unlike other children in a similar situation, they did not abandon classes. Most likely, their parents will be deprived of their parental rights when they return, the local social assistant says. However, the boys who have matured earlier than necessary are dying to see their parents again. They want to tell them how they lived without them and to convince them to never leave them alone again.

Longing For Parents Almost Led to Suicide

Elena Bacalu

Elena Bacalu,
Social Assistance Division, Cahul

Hundreds of people from the district of Vulcăneşti are also gone abroad. Most of them work in Turkey. Their children left at home say they will follow their parents’ example as they finish secondary school. The model thus given by parents is hard to combat. Nonetheless, the children of migrants are very vulnerable to stress and to social dangers, says Nadejda Mocan, director of the Psycho-Social Center of Vulcăneşti.

The Center has helped two juveniles who tried to commit suicide while their parents were gone abroad. “It was necessary to provide a number of psychological counseling sessions to them so that to bring them back to normal and help them reintegrate in the society and in the children’s community,” Nadejda Mocan says.
“In the district of Cahul we have registered cases when the parents gone for work have generally forgotten about their children,” says Elena Bacalu, Main Specialist at the Cahul Department of Social Assistance. “There are very many children abandoned by their parents who have gone abroad. We try to look for them. We manage to find some of them but cannot find others. We have had cases when they returned after a certain period of time and filed declarations of refusal of their children. They give up their children in Moldova because most of the times they already have a new family abroad.” 

Who Takes Care of Them?

The responsibility for the children left without their parents supervision (i.e. of the children in difficulty or those in situations of risk) is ‘distributed’ among the Ministries of Social Protection, Education, Interior, Health and the National House of Social Insurance. At local level, such children are the responsibility of not only social assistants and mayors but also teachers, doctors and other specialists.
However, without an efficient ‘record-keeping’ of the children left home alone, the authorities feel forced to look at figures that are far from the reality and to interfere only if the abuse has already been committed.

“The situation of the children of migrants differs a lot from one case to another. There are children who are well provided for financially and don’t lack anything except for their parents, but there are also children who endure famine and cold after their parents left and haven’t got in touch for many years, says Diana Cheianu-Andrei, Head of the Chair of Sociology at Moldova State University, who is developing a censor concept for IOM regarding the situation of children left without parental care as a result of migration. The problems faced by this category of children are various, from physical and sexual abuse to unwanted pregnancies and early abortions.

How Does the State React?

Diana Cheianu-Andrei

Diana Cheianu-Andrei,
Head of Sociology Chair at Moldova State University

The state’s response to the children home alone phenomenon has materialized in an action plan on the protection of children left without parental care for 2010-2012. This document provides for amending the legal framework in view of making the parents who go abroad more responsible, so that children’s rights are protected.

“The problem of children left without parental care is a priority one for the Government and for the Ministry of Labor, Social Protection and Family. The migration, poverty and other phenomena that have affected the family in Moldova have led to us having today 100,000 children left at the mercy of the fate and the current legal framework does not ensure adequate protection to them,” said the Minister of Labor Valentina Buliga at an Investigative Journalists Club Debate, held together with the International Organization for Migration.

According to her, the Ministry sets to develop a database of children in need, to also include the children of migrants. This would help the authorities learn their situation and interfere in their problems. The authorities also propose simplifying the procedure of instituting tutorship so that the person in whose care the child is left is made responsible by law for his/her security.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art. 3, Primary Interest of the Child: “In all actions concerning children the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. The state shall ensure the necessary protection and care for the child when the parents or legal representatives cannot do so.”

Children whose rights have been violated or their parents can contact:
The Child Lawyer Tamara Plămădeală – Child’s telephone: 080011116 
Center for the Rights of the Child – hotline: 930 222
Institute for the Rights of the Child - 24 49 11
Neovita Health Center for Youth – 40 66 34; 46 37 28

A Government decision currently in force obliges migrants who legally go to work abroad to present at the border passing points a document proving that they left their child with a tutor. However, in the district divisions of social assistance and protection of the family and child we managed to find out that only a few such cases are registered in each district. Most Moldovans go abroad illegally. In their case, this obligation cannot be applied.

Number of Social Orphans Higher Each Year

According to the data of the Center for Information and Documentation on the Rights of the Child of Moldova, the number of children left without parental care continuously increases. Thus, if in 2006 there were registered 94 thousand children having one parent gone abroad, in 2009, their number reached 135 thousand.

This investigation has been produced as part of the Journalists for Human Rights Media Campaign, implemented by the Investigative Journalism Center with the support of the US Embassy in Moldova. The authors are responsible for this article.