South Africa has uniquely high rates of parental absence from children’s lives. Apartheid-era restrictions on population movement and residential arrangements contributed to family fragmentation, particularly when adults – mainly men – migrated to work in cities and on the mines. Despite the removal of legal impediments to permanent urban settlement and family co-residence for Africans, patterns of internal and oscillating labour migration have endured, dual or stretched households continue to link urban and rural nodes, and children have remained less urbanised than adults. Importantly for children, migration rates among prime-age women have increased, alongside falling marriage rates, declining remittances and persistently high unemployment. Households, and women especially, may have to make difficult choices about how to manage the competing demands of child care and income generation.


This presentation will briefly describe a mixed-methods approach to exploring children’s geographic mobility and care arrangements. It maps recent patterns of child migration within South Africa using four waves of a national panel study and compares these with patterns of maternal migration to reveal various dynamics of migration in mother–child dyads: co-migration, sequential migration, independent migration, and immobility. The child-focused analysis augments the existing migration literature, which has tended to focus on adult labour migration and ignore children or regard them as appendages of migrants.

A single, detailed case study spanning three generations of mothers adds texture to the analysis by demonstrating the complexity of household strategies and plans for child care in the context of female labour migration. Presented as a series of animated kinship diagram, this story helps to reflect on the value of micro data for describing and analysing household form and migration patterns, particularly among children.

Katharine Hall is a senior researcher at the Children’s Institute, a policy research unit at the University of Cape Town. She holds a PhD in Development Theory and Policy from the University of the Witwatersrand and a Masters degree in Sociology from the University of Cape Town. Her work is mainly in the area of child poverty, inequality and social policy. She coordinates the institute's ‘Children Count’ project which monitors the situation of children in South Africa through child-centred analysis of large national household surveys. She has examined the integration of poverty alleviation programmes and the effectiveness of targeting mechanisms, particularly in relation to social assistance. She has worked extensively on household form, constructs of the family, and care arrangements for children. She has a strong interest in housing policy, migration and processes of urbanisation. She is a member of the standing committee of the International Society for Child Indicators and serves on the committee of the university’s cross-faculty Poverty and Inequality Initiative.