Photo Courtesy: PaSsu Diary

The children left behind

Narayan Katel & Pema Choki/ Thimphu

As the public continues to focus on the ongoing trend of the Australia Rush, there is a crucial aspect that often gets overlooked, the psychosocial impact on the children left behind in the care of their grandparents or relatives.

The children can experience a range of psychosocial impact on their development and growth.

According to a principal from one of the middle schools in Thimphu, the impact on a child left behind is visible. “We see changes in their behavior, and their academic performances. There are also few cases of students indulging in substance abuse.”

He also pointed out that while growing up, especially for adolescents, parental guidance and love is very important. “Usually, children are left behind with their relatives or their grandparent. However, no one can replace the love of a parent, and when one ultimately does not get it, their growth and development is hampered.”

He added that, in his school, about 5 percent of the students are left behind by their parents. There similar cases in other schools too.

As such cases increase, children left behind are increasingly getting impacted.

For couples going to Australia the majority do not take their young children for the first one or two years until they can set things up there.

According to Dr Damber K. Nirola, a psychiatrist at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), the impact on psychosocial life will be huge. “The impact felt depends on the caregiver, on the amount of love and care given. In a situation with grandparents, the children get enough care, however, there are also cases of children left with relatives, who might not be able to give enough care needed.”

“The impact will be felt, in terms of psychosocial problems, such as behavioral problems, social mal-adjustment, depression and loneliness, and poor academic performances,” he added.

However, Dr Nirola also pointed out some positive changes in children. “First of all, young children left behind are able and build strong psychological resilience and become more independent. In terms of economic status, they get better education and improved livelihood for the children as the parents send them money home.”

The main reason the parents leave their children behind is to alleviate their economic status.

According to a parent, she lied to her son that she was going to India for a tour instead of Australia.

She said, “My primary motivation is to improve my financial situation. As a mother, it is difficult to even consider leaving my child behind, but the future is also terrifying. Everything is soaring, living expenses are high in the country, and salaries are on the lower level for private employees and even civil servants. I find it terrifying to consider how my children will live in the future. We can never be sure, which is why I think that one should safeguard their future and make plans while they are still in a productive age.”

“Coming to Australia to work and earn money is difficult, and missing family back home sometimes makes me weak, but I think this is just a phase that will pass, and I can eventually make life easier for my family and my child,” she pointed out.

According to Dorji, a young resident in Australia, although most of the Bhutanese are young ones, almost 20 percent of the Bhutanese populace constitutes of parents who have left their children home. “Both the parents and the child are mentally impacted but they don’t have a choice. They come here to financially better themselves, to secure a good future,” Dorji said.

In most cases, the children left behind are around one-year-olds to 7-year-olds, who have no idea that their parents have left for Australia. They stay behind with their grandparents, hoping their parents will come home to them.

As years go by, their attachment to their parents are weakened or disconnected. Dr Nirola also highlighted that there are also chances of resentment building up later on. There are a few cases of children refusing to call their parents as mom and dad, and preferring to call them by their given names.

During a child’s development phase, if parents leave them, there are cases of trauma being developed. According to Dr Nirola, trauma developed during a young age can result in anxiety disorders, personality disorders and other mental illnesses in adult life.

Children might feel a sense of abandonment by their parents that can result in insecurity, lowered self-esteem, and possible regression in developmental milestones in children.

However, he also pointed out that, it depends on one’s psychological resilience.

There are also cases of parents leaving their children behind, and later on calling them to Australia. A pair of siblings were left behind for about two years and later went to Australia.

Dorji shares that as the parents get settled down and are comfortable enough, they call their children to Australia. However, even though the children get to stay with their parents after moving to Australia, they don’t get enough time to spend together due to the busy work schedule.

As families eventually unite in Australia, there are also cases of grandparents having to move to Australia to take care of the children.

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