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Study Calls for Support for Adolescent Girl Migrants

The Population Council study found adolescent girls move from city to city. (The Population Council)
The Population Council study found adolescent girls move from city to city. (The Population Council)

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Kim Lewis
The international NGO, the Population Council, recently released a report entitled Girls on the Move: Adolescent Girls & Migration in the Developing World.  It examined the experiences of adolescent girls who put themselves at risk while seeking new opportunities unavailable in their home villages and towns.  It said adolescent migrating girls, who are large in number but often overlooked, are more likely to stay within their own country, rather than leave for foreign destinations.

The study’s lead author, public health and social policy consultant Miriam Temin, said the research showed these girls are more likely to move from one urban area to another, often a nearby town, and then to a capital city.

“There’s a general perception that adolescent girls’ migration is bad. That is a problem that needs to be stopped or fixed.  And there has been a focus on the worst case scenarios, for example girls who are trafficked, who are absolutely in need of attention," said Temin, who added, "but what do we know about the much more routine types of migrant situations, which far outnumber those kinds of forced migrations and situations."

Temin explained the study found that adolescent girls who migrate domestically, are willing to leave home voluntarily -- based on the expectation they can improve their own lives and the well-being of their family.

“There is a general perception that migrant adolescent girls who move are forced to do so.  But, what we found is most girls are involved in the decision to move. They are exercising a degree of agency, they are exercising some choice, based on their assessment of the opportunities [to work] that await them versus the opportunities at home, ” said Temin. 

The lead author of the study, said, more often than not, the decision to leave is made by both the girls and her parents.

Once the decision is made, Temin emphasized the importance of having support and safety mechanisms in place before and after their departure.  And because the girls come from diverse backgrounds, it is important that there are a variety of ways that they can be helped.

Social support is especially important for girls who tend to be isolated - such as domestic workers, child brides and sexually exploited girls. Temin stressed the importance of having access to health services and other forms of support.

“The evidence finds that in general, traveling with an intermediary is helpful, and protects a child who is on the move,” she said.  

There are other factors to consider as well, before and during the process of leaving home, such as making sure the  girls have an adequate educational level before they embark on the journey, and they should also know what their rights are as a migrant. 

She said they should have, " full information about the migration process, and what might await them when they arrive, and that on arrival, they are integrated into their new communities.”

Temin noted governments should have a role in reducing barriers to migrant girls. Also, international organizations that mainly focus on international migration should include internal migration in their initiatives – to serve the needs of the large number of adolescent migrant girls as they make their journey to a new life, and adulthood.

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