The current COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic and labour market consequences are severely affecting Indian families. Children are the first to suffer, being subjected to child labour and Aide et Action’s latest assessment reveals that 50% of children of seasonal migrant workers are engaged in work.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented emergency of enormous scale and lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus have had a devastating effect on the socio-economic condition of many countries across the globe. In India, where vulnerable communities such as migrant workers and their families were recouping from the devastation, a second wave engulfed the country in May 2021, further impacting the most marginalised populations.
An assessment conducted by Aide et Action reveals that 50% of migrant children are currently engaged in work to help their parents to work or are paid workers.
As children of seasonal migrant workers spend half of their lives moving from their homes (source) to their parents’ job sites (destination) there is always a problem of enrolment and retention in school. Since schools are closed due to Covid-19, migrant children haven’t been able to access education either at their destination or source. In this context, online classes have been the only alternative available. However, migrant children cannot afford or access online classes because of locational and technological disadvantages.
The Migration Information Resource Centre of Aide et Action conducted a rapid assessment of migrant children across 4 cities in India during April 2020 to understand the impact of the pandemic on their wellbeing and education. It has been found that there is a significant increase in the number of children who are now accompanying parents to the brick kiln worksites due to school closure in their villages (source locations). At the worksites, while there is no facility for their education, children are then exposed to various exploitations including child labor.
The main conclusions of the evaluation carried out among 109 migrant parents in four cities (Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Hyderabad and Patna) are as follows:
- 92% of parents state that the pandemic has hugely affected the education of their children.
- Prolonged school closures have triggered an increase of 67% of school-going children forced to accompany their parents to worksites. The number of girl migrant children is 2% higher than the number of boys.
- All the accompanying children in the age group of 3 – 6 years of age (17 percent of the total children) were deprived of pre-school education.
- While 18% of migrant children were out of school during COVID-19 first wave, the rise during the second wave has been a staggering 100%. The impact of school closures has a higher impact on seasonal migrant children than non-migratory children.
- For 44% of parent’s online classes are not affordable
- 28% said their children did not get admission into the school after returning.
- 79% of the parents said they are compelled to bring their children with them to the worksites as schools are closed due to COVID-19.
- 45% of parents think that the schools should be opened with COVID-19 appropriate precautions, 29% of parents said remedial classes would help the children catch up on missed education.
- As per the assessment, 50% of the migrant children are engaged in labour supporting their parents in work and as paid labourers.
These migrant children are exposed to various forms of exploitation with many of them ending up as child labourers. If education, care, and protection-related support are not provided to these children now, they will never be able to go back to school and drop out of the education system permanently.
Aide et Actions proposition to address the crisis
Aide et Action proposes to initiate an intervention for uninterrupted education and care of migrant children both at source and destination locations in three states of India. The intervention focuses on providing emergency nutritional support to the children, particularly returnee migrant children who are most under-nourished.
On the education front, the project will establish Child Care & Learning Centres with the support of their parents employers within the residential area of the migrant workers in the brick kilns. The Child Care & Learning Centres will be instrumental in providing pre-primary education to the young migrants and help them in their social, cognitive, and physical development. As the schools are closed due to pandemic, remedial classes will be organized for the returnee migrant children at their source villages adhering to COVID-19 appropriate norms. Education volunteers would be engaged who will take the remedial classes to bridge the learning gaps.
Once they return to their respective villages, all the children will be mainstreamed with government services (nutrition, immunisation and education) in their villages. The education volunteers at the villages will help them in re-enrolment, getting their mid-day meals, and textbooks. At the worksite, the older school-going children (6-14 years) will be enrolled in the neighbourhood schools if schools are open. If schools are closed, education volunteers will provide education at the worksites.
The data collected from the baseline survey will be submitted to the concerned government departments to leverage government entitlements like nutrition, mid-day meals, school enrolment, etc., to children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers. Health campaigns at regular intervals would be organized for the migrant children and their families in collaboration with the government and private hospitals for proper COVID-19-related screening. Immunisation, mother and child care, referral of seriously ill migrants would also be carried out in the worksites to prevent them from infection.
Globally, as child labour increases due to COVID-19, assessments of the most at-risk are necessary to understand the varied needs of children. In India, we believe our research and proposed holistic approach could prevent further exploitation of the some of the country’s most vulnerable children and youth.