Children of transnational labour migrants: Birth registration

Leslie Butt, Anthropology & Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria, Canada
Jessica Ball, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, Canada
Harriot Beazley, Geography, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia

Field Researchers:
Untung Waluyo, Education, University of Mataram, Lombok, Indonesia
Nurul Ilmi Idrus, Anthropology, Hasannudin University, Makassar, Indonesia
Stella Utomo, Women’s Studies, University of Mataram, Lombok, Indonesia

Project background

With international migration on the rise, growing numbers of children are born and raised without legal affiliation to a nation-state. Children who lack legal documents, such as a birth certificate or proof of citizenship, are often described as stateless. The world community has become increasingly active in efforts to gather accurate information and reduce the incidence of statelessness. Statelessness is associated with a range of negative trajectories and outcomes. On one hand, rights advocates and child-focused organizations are concerned about the inability of undocumented children to exercise basic rights. On the other hand, stateless children are an anathema to governments that seek to reinforce national borders, promote national security and prevent ‘aliens’ from making claims on citizen services including social protection, education, and health care.

Indonesian children may be stateless because:

1. They crossed borders illegally with their parents and do not have legal documents in the receiving country
2. Their births are not registered in their home communities
3. They may have migrated independently without documentation.

Research team members have assessed the risk of statelessness and the quality of life for children in Indonesia who are born to parents who have migrated overseas without legal authorization. The project has explored parental decision-making about whether to register the birth of their children born in Indonesia or while they were working overseas.

Project outcomes

Our research identified factors influencing prevalent decisions by parents not to seek birth registration, including:  

  • Lack of knowledge about birth registration in Indonesian communities where there is high transnational labour migration
  • Migrant labour precarity in general
  • Marriage practices that affect labour migration and likelihood of birth registration
  • Patriarchal values and associated effects on decisions about both registration and migration
  • Access to and costs of birth registration
  • Documentation practices and widespread use of false documents
  • Lack of understanding of the negative consequences of not registering birth
  • Local reputation – both stigma and honour
  • Confusion generated by middlemen (brokers) involved in migrant labour recruitment and movement


Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria


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