For The Children…

May 16, 2014
Paul Janssen

The answer to the question “why do people migrate?” is nearly as complicated as working out the meaning to life or the location of a certain missing air-plane. The reasoning can include anything from lifestyle, work/life balance and education all the way through to the weather and people keen to live in a place where hobbits are rumoured to roam.

For most migrants however, their reasons for making the move are almost always a by-product of the desire to seek out a better life for their children. Whether its mum and dad wanting better employment prospects for their three teenage children or the newlywed couple without kids doing their ‘future planning’; the overwhelming response to the question that I ask most of the people I meet is, “we are doing it for the children”. To illustrate the point, only 10 or so years ago our average client from South Africa was married, mortgaged and middle class with a couple of teenage children in tow. Now we are seeing a much wider range of younger migrant hopefuls in their mid-twenties, who have yet to experience the joy of parenting but shudder at the thought of raising children in their own country. No matter where our clients come from though, the thread that ties the majority of them together is seeking out something better for the next generation.

And fair enough to, that’s what we parents are engineered to do.

There are very few places on earth where children can enjoy the relative freedoms that Kiwi kids take for granted. Children here can access a world class (and largely free) education system and top notch healthcare facilities also publicly funded. All of this on top of the fact that they can simply enjoy being children without the stress, fear and anxiety that many societies throughout the world impose on their youth from a very early age.

Of course, New Zealand isn’t perfect and our children face many of the normal social pressures and issues that plague most countries. As parents in New Zealand (and I am one) we still have to exercise common sense and parental responsibility (as far as one can with their children) to ensure that our kids grow up to be decent human beings. The comparison, however, is that most of the issues we have to deal with are within our control. As parents we are faced with the daily challenges of stroppy toddlers and stroppy teenagers, too much TV, associating with the wrong crowd and too much time on Facebook; all relatively minor when you consider what parents in other parts of the world have to contend with.

Let me give you a few examples.

I read an article in Singapore last week discussing a survey, where one in three Singaporean children between nine and twelve years of age, considered that their life was not worth living, owing mainly to their fear of academic failure. These children and I stress that at that age they are very much children, are so afraid of not being able to compete within the education system that they question whether their life has that much meaning. Surely that is a problem. There is no doubt that Singapore has created an outstanding academic system and one that is capable of producing any number of Engineers, Doctors, Software Gurus or Investment Bankers, but if a third of your very young academic population is questioning whether they should continue living before they are barely out of diapers, something is essentially going to give way. Unfortunately, this not just an issue in Singapore but for many South East Asian countries were academic competition has become a national past time.

Some might say that New Zealand could do with a sprinkling of this competition and that our system is perhaps a little too ‘bell curve’ oriented, focussing on making sure everyone feels like a winner rather than drawing a line between those who can and those who cannot. There is probably some truth to that, but the overwhelming difference is that children in New Zealand who want to achieve and are supported by their parents in doing so, can. They are also able to do this without feeling the entire weight of society on top of them from the age of six. We also tend to give children a ‘social education’ and not just book smarts. We teach kids how to tackle the world, which in many cases is just as important as giving the academic tools.

As a parent to an almost three year old, I know that whilst the system might have changed, my daughter will have access to a similarly rounded education that I had. Able to pursue whatever academic interests she may eventually have and be well equipped to apply that learning and grapple with life after school; no different to the education I received when I was a youngster.

For other parents, education might be lower on the priority list and the focus may be more heavily on whether their kids make it home at night. Let me first state that parents will always worry what their kids are up to, or what they are doing; there is, however, a big difference between routinely wondering whether your child is out late at a party or hanging with the wrong crowd and worrying whether they have been the victim of a rape, mugging, abduction or shooting. For many of our clients the latter is something that concerns them daily.

Of course you still have to be vigilant in New Zealand to ensure your children are safe, although most of these factors we can influence or at least try to. We don’t have the same concerns of violent crime on every street corner and the fear that their school may be shot to pieces in a shoot-out. The whole realm of worry and concern for parents in New Zealand is several degrees less in this country. Our most recent statistics show that crime has fallen 4% across New Zealand in the year ending December 2013 and 93% of our population feels safer. There aren’t too many places in the world where crime overall is falling and people have greater confidence in the protection that police can provide for themselves and their children. All of this, without the need to carry a gun on their hip.

Beyond the stresses of education and the desire to live in a safe, peaceful country many parents who migrate have, at the top of their list of concerns, the long term future for their children. Questions like “will my child get a job” are far easier to answer here than they are in say South Africa, where the prospect of securing employment is determined by the colour of your skin. In New Zealand children can grow up to pursue whatever careers they wish and are limited only by their own desire to excel and succeed. We have no racial quotas designed to allocate jobs to certain ethnicities and, in fact, we have one of the most equal employment markets in the world. The sky is most certainly the limit for children in New Zealand and we have a system that enshrines this equality in almost every facet of the legal system.

These are but a few of the reasons that New Zealand is a very attractive proposition for migrants looking to secure a better future for their children (or children to come) and the list extends to many other facets of life. Freedom of religion, a fair and tolerant society, minimal to non-existent corruption and a clean, green healthy environment are a few of the other reasons I give my clients whose focus is squarely set on doing this for their children.

Yes, New Zealand has issues when it comes to kids, and I am not pretending that this is the perfect incubator for children, but in reality when you compare it to almost every other country on earth the statistics, no matter how they are framed, all point to this country being right up there.

So for many people considering this move whose focus is on what they can do for their children, New Zealand represents a great start in life. That isn’t to say that New Zealand isn’t a great place for parents as well, but we all know that the sacrifices we make for our children know no bounds and migration is simply another thing many people do to give their kids a better head start.

If you have ever thought about what your child’s life might be like in ten years and then started to sweat nervously or reach for a cup of something stronger than tea, perhaps it might be worth finding out what New Zealand can offer.

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