NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Sex trafficking, exploitative labor and homelessness are well-known dangers for girls and female teens who migrate from rural to urban areas.
But there are also some silver linings, and “Girls on the Move: Adolescent Girls and Migration in the Developing World,” a May 14 report by the New York-based Population Council, includes some of the lesser-known positives alongside the hazards.
In many settings, girls’ migration for school or work becomes an acceptable alternative to marriage.
Migration also heightens education and financial independence.
Girls’ migration for purposes other than marriage becomes even more acceptable when parents depend on their remittances. Parents may be less likely to initiate marriage arrangements to prolong these contributions to the household budget.
Migrant girls’ perception of marriage–and what they desire in a spouse and married life–can also change. Some of the young women featured in the report, for example, prioritized career advancement and waited longer for marriage, until they found a desirable spouse. Rather than marrying men chosen by families, some opted for “love marriages” with co-workers.
“I was requested for marriage and since my parents didn’t want me to get married, they sent me here to my brother so that I could go to school in the city,” a young Ethiopian is quoted as saying in the report, as she recounts her experience as a migrant at age 8. She is now 15. Seven years ago, she left rural Amhara to go to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa for a better future.
In Mali, young labor migrants were found to stay away from the villages, working in towns until they felt ready to wed. They signaled their availability by returning home. Within six months of returning to their rural villages, 60 percent of migrant girls had married.
Many girls migrate to be closer to schools. By working some build savings that contribute to their economic independence.
Some accept social disapproval as the cost of economic independence.
“In the past when an unmarried woman travelled to the south, she was automatically branded a prostitute,” says Abena, 22, who works as a waitress in a bar in Ghana. “But now who cares? If they call me a prostitute and I know that I am not one, why should I be worried? Once I am able to work and get money to buy the things that I need, I don’t care about what people might say.”
Young female migrants who move for reasons other than marriage tend then to marry later than their peers who stay at home. In rural Bangladesh, migration is a viable strategy for prolonging girls’ unmarried status while maintaining respectability in the community and enhancing their marriage prospects, the study reports.
Girls on the Move uses the example of migration among Ethiopian girls aged 10-19 to show that more women are migrating for school and job opportunities than for marriage. About 36 percent of them migrate for school-related reasons and about 27 percent for job opportunities. A much lesser percentage–about 14 percent–move to urban areas to get married.