Sibling caretaking, although common across time and cultures, has not been well researched from the carer’s point of view. In Nicaragua, ranked as one of the poorest countries in the Americas, sibling caretaking is common. The country’s historical background and its state of chronic poverty, widespread unemployment, loose family structures, and migration and mobility makes of the old practise of shared management child care a necessity. Households headed by sing¬le mothers constitute a particular Nica¬raguan charact¬eristic. Many children are expected to help in their own families and care for their siblings and other children living in their households. In its broadest sense sibling caretaking is a public health concern, and we conducted this study to widen the understanding of the phenomenon as it is represented in a setting undergoing a rapid social transition.
The main objectives were to identify, describe and analyse the life situation of sibling caretakers in poor areas in León, Nicaragua, with focus on how they perceived it themselves. A combined qualitative and quantitative methodological design was used, mainly applying an ethnographic approach. A further ambition was to explore involvement of children in a participatory research process in accordance with the ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’.
The overall emotion expressed among the caretakers was pride, even if their situation often was characterized by stress and coping problems. They perceived their work as important for their families and they appreciated to fend for their siblings. Household work and nurturing of siblings were shaping the future lives of the caretakers and constituted part of their socialization.
Even if many of these children achieve essential life skills as caretakers, they are at risk of falling behind as they grow older. Their long-term personal development is likely to be hampered by the obligations they have as caretakers. The carers' awareness of missing out on education was the most problematic issue for them.
From a societal point of view, caretaking has negative consequences. The individual child is marginalised with limited access to basic education, contributing to overall low educational levels in Nicaragua.
While the structuring conditions leading to sibling caretaking may be difficult to change, awareness of how these can affect children might make way for improvements in terms of access to school education and support from the society. The knowledge gained from this study should be further utilised to plan for interventions that take children’s perspectives into consideration.