Research Reveals New Positive Insight into Girls’ Migration

Migration For Majority Of Girls Leads To Greater Autonomy And Prosperity; Strong Safety Nets Needed

Washington, D.C.

May 14, 2013


Megan Rabbitt

The Population Council today released Girls on the Move: Adolescent Girls & Migration in the Developing World, examining the social and economic drivers of internal migration for adolescent girls in developing countries, and the links between migration, risk, and opportunity. The report focuses on the ways in which rural-to-urban migration can—provided necessary safety nets and resources are in place—present adolescent girls with new opportunities that are unavailable in their home villages and towns. The Girls Count series is an initiative of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls. Support for this project was generously provided by the Nike Foundation and United Nations Foundation.

“Adolescent girls are on the move in developing countries—and for many of them, the results are positive. With the right support, they find work, make money, and grow,” said Peter Donaldson, Population Council president. “When a migrant girl succeeds, she creates a ripple effect through generations: her family and future children will be better off because of her ability to finish school, get a job, and stay healthy. Girls on the Move presents the most up-to-date evidence about migrant girls and charts a bold agenda for the work that is needed to ensure the most at-risk migrant girls land safely and thrive.”

Migration can be risky. But Girls on the Move finds that for the majority of girls, it can lead to autonomy, opportunity, and prosperity. Some migrant girls are able to combine work and schooling, expanding their opportunities. Many of these girls earn enough to send money home to their families. When a girl sends money home, it changes how her family views her—it can give her greater influence in decision-making, and in some cases, can delay early marriage.

“This report points to important considerations for policy makers, NGOs, and multi-lateral organizations working to support adolescent girls around the world,” said Kathy Calvin, United Nations Foundation president and chief executive officer. “Girls on the Move, in many ways, challenges assumptions that migration of adolescent girls in the developing work is fraught with danger, despair, and disconnection.” She added “This report proves that—with the right safety nets in place—girls’ migration can have many positive outcomes for girls and their families. If girls choose to migrate and are supported throughout the migration experience from before leaving their natal home through arrival and transition to their new environment, some migrant girls are able to combine work and schooling, expanding their opportunities.”

To reap the benefits of migration, however, girls need adequate preparation before they migrate, arrangements for safe travel during their journey, and support once they arrive at their destinations. Current programs and policies aimed at helping migrants largely ignore adolescent girls. On the rare occasions when policies and programs attempt to reach vulnerable migrant girls, they are on a small scale and more likely to benefit more advantaged migrant girls or male migrants. Many programs and local governments view urban migration in negative terms—without acknowledging its potential benefits.

“Migrant girls are more socially isolated than their nonmigrant peers,” said Margaret E. Greene of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls. “Finding effective ways to integrate migrant girls into their new communities is essential for ensuring their access to the resources available in urban areas. Accessing these resources is crucial to a migrant girl’s success.”

Girls on the Move provides policymakers, program planners, and funders with new evidence on the circumstances of migrant girls in the developing world, and offers eight recommendations to minimize the negative aspects of migration and maximize its benefits for adolescent girls in the developing world.


  • Prepare and equip girls before they migrate: Ensure education, life skills, knowledge of rights, IDs Recommendations
  • Make health and education services “migrant girl friendly”: Ensure service providers are sensitive to age, sex, and migration status
  • Ensure a smooth landing for migrant girls: Reduce isolation through safe places to stay and links with trusted individuals
  • Build a safety net: Create time and space for migrant girls to meet with peers, mentors, and support networks
  • Test innovative ways to prepare migrant girls for success: Investigate ways to develop girls’ assets before things go wrong.
  • Focus on the most isolated and vulnerable: Design girl-only approaches to reach domestic workers, child brides, & sexually exploited girls
  • Fill critical evidence gaps: Illuminate age- & sex-disaggregated internal migration rates using new and existing quantitative data. Develop qualitative and longitudinal studies to shed light on migrant girls’ experiences, as well as to evaluate and improve programs.
  • Increase migrant girls’ visibility through policy and advocacy: Maximize the benefits of migration for adolescent girls by increasing their visibility in policy engagement and advocacy efforts.

Girls on the Move is the sixth report in the Girls Count series, which uses adolescent girl-specific data and analysis to drive meaningful action. Each work explores an uncharted dimension of adolescent girls’ lives and sets out concrete tasks for the global community. Together, these actions can put the 515 million adolescent girls in the developing world on a path of health, education, and economic power—for their own well-being and the prosperity of their families, communities, and nations. This Girls Count series includes:

The Population Council team that authored the Girls on the Move report includes Miriam Temin, Mark R. Montgomery, Sarah Engebretsen, and Kathryn M. Barker
Related materials released today include a policy brief, summarizing the book’s recommendations, and a fact sheet.

About the Population Council
The Population Council confronts critical health and development issues—from stopping the spread of HIV to improving reproductive health and ensuring that young people lead full and productive lives. Through biomedical, social science, and public health research in 50 countries, we work with our partners to deliver solutions that lead to more effective policies, programs, and technologies that improve lives around the world. Established in 1952 and headquartered in New York, the Council is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization governed by an international board of trustees. For more information, visit: Twitter handle: @Pop-Council.

About the Coalition for Adolescent Girls
The Coalition for Adolescent Girls includes over 40 leading organizations committed to driving new and improving existing programming, policies and investments that will promote the rights and opportunities of adolescent girls. The Coalition envisions a world where adolescent girls are able to fully realize their rights, navigate challenges, and access opportunities during the transition from childhood to adulthood and beyond. The Coalition is supported by the Nike Foundation and United Nations Foundation. For more information, visit:

About the Nike Foundation
The Nike Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to investing in adolescent girls as the most powerful force for change in the developing world. The work of the Nike Foundation is supported by NIKE, Inc., and by significant investments from the NoVo Foundation. For more information, visit: Twitter handle: @GirlEffect.

About The United Nations Foundation
The United Nations Foundation builds public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the United Nations through advocacy and public outreach. Through innovative campaigns and initiatives, the Foundation connects people, ideas, and resources to help the UN solve global problems. The Foundation was created in 1998 as a U.S. public charity by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner and now is supported by global corporations, foundations, governments, and individuals. For more information, visit: Twitter handle: @UNFoundation