Pop Pov

Fertility Outcomes and the Roles of Children in Household Risk-Management Strategies in Rural West Africa: The Cases of Senegal and Benin

  • January 2013
  • Interview
Anne Kleilland

Researcher Anne Kielland spoke with PRB staff about her project on the roles of children in household risk-management strategies in rural Senegal and Benin. She discussed her research methodology and survey strategy, along with findings regarding the effect of poverty on child mobility. Read a transcript of the questions and answers.

Kielland is a researcher at FAFO, in Oslo, Norway.

What is your research topic under the PopPov initiative?

I’m interested in the role that children play in uninsured families. In Scandinavia and in Europe, we are accustomed to having very good public social safety nets and social insurance arrangements. There are other places in the world where people live completely without insurance, which necessitates the construction of social safety nets that function as informal insurance arrangements for the uninsured. How does this work? And how does the need to keep building, keep enforcing, keep developing these social safety nets affect the opportunities of children? I am trying to investigate these questions at the core of my research.

A lot of the practices related to moving children between households came to be labeled as trafficking. To the foreign eye, on many occasions, it looked like trafficking; very often these children would be working in the new home. People who know the culture and history of West Africa, however, know that this circulation of children had been going on for probably centuries, having played a very important part in the development and enforcement of the social safety nets of the households and families of the children who were moving.

Families are not just trying to cope with poverty, but they’re also trying to prepare themselves for the next shock—for instance, a drought. How do you get through it? Is there something you could do to prepare yourself for the next shock? What part do children play in the preparation for these types of risk management tools? Whereas we [in Scandinavia and Europe] tend to be very individualistic societies, children in uninsured families and uninsured areas will always have to negotiate their own aspirations against the need of their families for social protection. If there had been other types of social safety nets in place, perhaps children wouldn’t have to make sacrifices or have to negotiate away economic opportunities that they otherwise would have.

What research methods did you use for this project?

I work quantitatively, with statistics, and the first objective of our research is to estimate national numbers. One of the things we want to know is how extensive is child mobility? How much does it happen? Why do children leave? What are the main reasons given by their families?

I don’t do regular household surveys; rather, I design a survey that is fertility-based. We go to 3,000 mainly rural households, in each country. Our ultimate unit of research is children because we want to estimate numbers of child mobility. To do that, we have a parent representing the child, and in each household, we list all the child representatives. We ask for full fertility history. If children are not living with the primary caretaker, we ask when they left, who they left with, the reasons for their leaving, and how they’re doing now in order to try to figure out the motivation.

In addition to estimating national numbers, we look at the areas where this is happening more frequently, and where the riskier types of child mobility are more commonly occurring. This work can give an indication of where to begin or where to focus policy. The third thing we do is to start relating those findings to causal factors: we look at the effect of poverty and mobility caused by crisis, and we look at shocks in addition to that.

Studying the impact of shock on households and on the outcomes of children has been among the main focuses in our research in Senegal and Benin. In Senegal we’ve been studying in particular the effect of drought on rural households and its consequences for children. In Benin, we focus on the 2010 floods that affected a lot of households in the country. We also try to tie this research to ongoing policy in the countries.

What are the major research findings to date?

The general findings are that the impact of poverty on child mobility practices is much smaller than we could have expected, so a lot of the mobility of children doesn’t seem to be poverty driven. Sometimes we find less child mobility in the very poorest segment: very poor people don’t move their children out; maybe because they don’t have the social networks needed to do it, or because they don’t have the financial resources to get started, or perhaps because they don’t have the ability to engage in strategic planning. Yes, we find an impact of poverty, but perhaps not as big as one would expect.

Our most important finding is that the impact of shock comes on top of that [poverty]. In Senegal, households shocked by drought were more likely to have children leaving the parental household at an early age. Some of the causes of this movement are driven by social motives or religious training, as the qualitative literature describes. At least in the statistical results, we find quite an effect of poverty and of drought and drought shocks, perhaps more than had been anticipated in running discourse.

In Benin, we didn’t find a direct impact of being effected by the floods, but we found effects in the coping strategies applied by the households. So, we could see correlates—in households where they had to sell off their animals to cope with the floods, for instance, they would also have children leaving. There was a hierarchy of different coping mechanisms, and when households reached the level of selling animals and land, the children would leave before that.

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