The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the economic situation of the most vulnerable. Thousands of children are forced to work to help their families meet their basic needs. Among them, migrants are the most at risk. On the occasion of International Migrants Day, marked on December 18 2021, we share the work of our colleagues in India who are raising awareness on fundamental rights and freedoms.
Education is one of the best bulwarks against poverty and forced child labour, especially for migrant children who are at high risk. This is why we fight every day to support marginalised children to access their right to education.
Children still too not considered a priority
In India, an estimated 100 million migrant workers move with their families from rural to urban areas in search of employment and livelihoods. Estimates suggest that migrant children constitute around 10 to 15 million of this total population. The country has a series of progressive laws to protect the rights of children; however, only 48% of Indian children benefit from this support.
A large part of those excluded from these basic services are migrant children because they are mobile. Their experience of poverty and vulnerability is multidimensional and differs from that of adults; it deserves specific consideration. Unfortunately, the Indian state considers children under the age of six a low priority and that it is up to families to ensure their children’s development.
Support and inclusion
In Balangir region, 13-year-old Sumitra spends days labouring under the scorching sun, missing out on school and often, a childhood that involves carefree playing with her friends. “On the construction site, I help my parents make bricks, in bright sunlight,” she says. “I often get sick. I miss school and my friends.
Since 2009, our program, which primarily targets children like Sumitra in distress working in brickyards and construction sites, consists of setting up centres dedicated to the care of early childhood, where we strive to provide reception service, as well as basic education.
We promote children’s cognitive learning and physical growth through the development of appropriate materials and programs. Over the years, we have succeeded in ensuring that migrant children can return to school once they return to their villages of origin. Sumitra dreams of finishing school herself so she can support other children like her. “I would like to study and become a teacher for migrant children like me.”
More than ever, our mobilisation is essential since the number of children who risk having to work on construction sites with their parents has doubled since the COVID-19 crisis and we cannot leave them behind. Every child deserves their right to education.