Strong and sustainable initiatives are needed to ensure no child is left without adequate support.
Seven-year-old Raju takes his place on the veranda of his temporary dormitory after carefully scrubbing his hands with soap and water, waiting to be served his evening meal. Tonight is a special day. He has visitors from the UK. He has been told they are supporters of the programme that provide the children with shelter and three meals a day.
goes to the local government school during the day. After school he returns to
the dormitory (seasonal hostel), which he shares with 39 other children, aged 6 to 14 and his co-resident caregivers. These are
children of seasonal economic migrants from the village in the district of Dang
in Gujarat, where 98% are from the Adivasis community (schedule tribes). The parents leave their children in the
villages when they migrate other rural areas for six to seven months a year to
work as casual labour on farms cutting sugarcane, harvesting grapes or
migration for employment is a growing phenomenon in India. No one knows its true scale as census data
fail to capture such movements. Estimates
suggest more than 120 million people migrate in response to the demand for
cheap labour created by rapid urbanisation and the growing agri-economy.
their significant contribution to India’s economic growth, migrants are trapped
in a cycle of poverty, migration and
exploitation. Parents and
children who migrate are not only a cheap source of labour, but are also not able
to access essential public services including health care, education and accommodation.
According to the 2019 Global Education Monitoring
report 80% of migrant children across seven Indian cities had no access to
education. The report also states that 40% of children from seasonal migrant
households are likely to end up working rather being in school, facing
exploitation and abuse.
migrating parents are leaving their children behind often in
care of grandparents. Under the
Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE), state
government and local authorities are legally obliged to “ensure admission of
children of migrant families in schools”. The Act’s guidelines recommend
setting up seasonal hostels for children of who have been left behind. Where states have done this, they are often in partnership with NGOs who employ local experts and volunteers as
guardians, providing after school care to children. Migrating parents feel
secure knowing their children are looked after.
However, the challenges facing children like
Raju, who are left behind in villages, are different from the children who migrate with their parents. Though the left-behind children may have the security of a familiar environment and access to village
school, the periodic absence of parents from their day-to-day life can increase
the risk of psychological and emotional distress.
When I visited the project in the Dang District, managed by Swapath Trust, a local NGO with support from the AWARE Foundation UK, I was indeed inspired by the activities and commitment of the local team. The programme offered a much broader quality of extracurricular activities that included learning by play, dancing and singing, sport and counseling services. I looked at the smiling faces of the children and heard their infectious laughter as they performed a dance routine standing in a circle, copying the volunteer as she waved her arms, twisted her hips and played an imaginary guitar. I wondered if the smiling faces were hiding any other emotions. I have no way of knowing this.
The effect of parents’ migration on a child’s physical, cognitive, mental and emotional well-being and its long term consequences is an area little studied in India. Studies in the UK and China have shown that, though employment opportunities provide income for the family, prolonged separation from their parents can affect children’s psychosocial well-being.
The Chinese study highlighted that, in the absence of parents, the quality of care arrangements is critical to the well being of children. It also made the point that community-based interventions with psychosocial support can help migrant parents and co-resident caregivers better engage children and promote their resilience.
In a recent report titled Trapped: A cycle of poverty, migration and exploitation, published by Swapath Trust, the authors studied the condition of seasonal migrant parents and their left-behind children of the Dang district in Gujarat. The study found poor and exploitative conditions of the migrant parents, working 10-12 hours a day and paid as little as Rs127 per day, which is half the mandated minimum wage.
The authors made several recommendations on how to make migration child-friendly and safer for workers. This includes fair wages and access to fundamental public services. They recommend setting up adequate residential facilities for left-behind children in villages, with locally recruited, regularly monitored and supervised wardens and strengthening of local schools with effective monitoring of teachers and teaching quality.
In India, the government’s record on the provision of primary schools is impressive, but there are systemic failures in safeguarding the rights and well-being of migrant workers and their children. Strong and sustainable initiatives are needed to ensure no child is left without adequate support. This includes trained teachers, health care providers and caregivers who can provide emotional and psychological support.
Children everywhere have a right to a standard of living that meets their physical, emotional and social needs and supports their Development. Under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, Governments have a responsibility and duty to protect children from any form of violence, abuse and neglect. The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children.
Bharti Patel is a child right and Social Justice Advocate, living in London
Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels to stay updated with the latest CSR news and exclusive updates.
India CSR is the largest media on CSR and sustainability offering diverse content across multisectoral issues on business responsibility. It covers Sustainable Development, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Sustainability, and related issues in India. Founded in 2009, the organisation aspires to become a globally admired media that offers valuable information to its readers through responsible reporting.
India CSR is the largest tech-led platform for information on CSR and sustainability in India offering diverse content across multisectoral issues. It covers Sustainable Development, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Sustainability, and related issues in India. Founded in 2009, the organisation aspires to become a globally admired media that offers valuable information to its readers through responsible reporting. To enjoy the premium services, we invite you to partner with us.
Dear Valued Reader
India CSR is a free media platform that provides up-to-date information on CSR, Sustainability, ESG, and SDGs. They need reader support to continue delivering honest news. Donations of any amount are appreciated.